Ohio looking to strengthen whistleblower protection law

A proposed law would expand protections for whistleblowers who report or refuse to participate in illegal activity in public and private organizations throughout Ohio.

House Bill 238 expands both Ohio’s Whistleblower Protection Law for private and public sector employees and the Public Employee Whistleblower Law for employees in the classified or unclassified civil service.

The state’s current law prohibits companies from disciplining an employee, and the measure would expand the prohibitions to bar companies from retaliating against whistleblowers, including reducing an employee’s pay, denying a promotion and making threats against the whistleblower. The bill also streamlines the process for an employee to report wrongdoing, including violation of state and federal law.

“If a private or public sector employee becomes aware of illegal activity going on at work, they should be able to tell someone about it without fear of retribution,” Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire said during a House Civil Justice Committee hearing. “Taxpayers deserve to have a more accountable government, and workers in Ohio should not have to tolerate illegal activities going on in the workplace.”

The bill would eliminate the more burdensome reporting requirements currently in place for filing a report. It also increases how much time employees subjected to retaliation have to file a lawsuit from 180 days to one year after the date of the disciplinary or retaliatory action.

“For the private sector, employees that believe illegal activity is going on at their workplace are given more options on how to report their concerns,” Cera said. “The bill also gives them more protections from more types of retaliatory action as well as further legal recourse to take civil action if they are retaliated against.

“In Ohio, there should not be barriers to keeping our government accountable from the inside,” Cera said. “No worker in our state should be silenced when they are ready to speak out about illegal activity at work.”

Cera is sponsoring the bill with state Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, and 16 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors. Cera co-sponsored similar legislation last year, but this year’s iteration of the bill is seemingly off to a better start.

“It’s probably the most well-rounded attempt we’ve had,” The Columbus Dispatch quoted Inspector General Randall J. Meyer as saying. “I think it will likely increase some of the complaints we receive. We’ll find some folks that are employees that feel more confident in doing the right thing and coming forward.”

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