Q: I am supposed to get one fifteen-minute break during my shift, but my supervisor often tells me we are too busy for me to have a break and I don’t get one, nor do I get paid an extra fifteen minutes when I skip my break. Is this legal?
A: Yes. Neither state nor federal law requires an employer to provide paid or unpaid breaks to employees over the age of 18. Unless you have a specific contract or are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, an employer may require you to work any number of hours straight without a break or lunch.
Q: I have been here the longest of all of the employees, but when business slowed down I was laid off while the new hires kept working. Isn’t this an illegal violation of my seniority?
A: “Seniority” is solely a creation of collective bargaining, so seniority is not protected by state or federal law. The mere fact that the employer chooses to lay off a more senior employee rather than new hires does not violate any law.
Q: When I asked to leave work early to see my child in a school play, my employer said no, but the day before he let my co-worker leave early to see her son’s soccer game. Isn’t this discrimination?
A: While it is true that the employer has treated you differently from another employee, unless there is evidence that the difference in treatment was based on age, race, sex, religion, national origin or disability, the difference in treatment is not considered prohibited discrimination.
Q: I got fired today. I have no write-ups and the boss didn’t tell me why I was fired. I don’t think there was just cause for my termination. Can I sue and win?
A: Ohio is an employment “at will” state. This means that, unless you have an employment contract or are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, your employer can fire you for any reason or for no particular reason, as long as the employer does not fire you because of age, race, sex, national origin or disability. So, you do not have a viable lawsuit based only on the fact that your employer cannot demonstrate that it had just cause to terminate you. However, your employer must demonstrate that it had just cause to terminate you in order to deny you unemployment compensation. So, you should apply for unemployment compensation.
Q: My boss is really a mean person. She is always yelling at us and telling us we are stupid. She yells at everybody, African-American, white, man or woman. Can we all sue for harassment?
A: The law does not guarantee you a civil workplace where everyone is nice. Some people are just terrible bosses. If your boss is mean to everyone without regard to age, race, sex, national original, disability or religion, then you do not have a legitimate (“actionable”) harassment lawsuit.
Q: The store where I work closes at 9:00 p.m. I am paid until 9:30 p.m. because I have to close out the register and tidy up. Many times I end up staying until 10:00 p.m. or longer to get all the work done. The boss refuses to pay me for time worked after my shift ends. He says I am not working fast enough. Is this legal?
A: No. If you are consistently working more than a few minutes after the end of your shift, the employer must pay you for that time. You can call the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division and ask the Department to investigate and possibly pursue a claim on your behalf.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Toledo attorney Joan Torzewski of Harris, Reny & Torzewski, LPA. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.