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Can I Sue My Employer For False Imprisonment?

by | Apr 12, 2022 | Employment Law |

What law protects workers from being locked in or restrained by employers?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: There are two laws that protect employees from being unlawfully restrained or imprisoned by a manager. First, we look to Ohio R.C. § 2905.03, which is a criminal statute for unlawful restraint. Although this is a criminal statute, under Ohio R.C. § 2307.60(A)(1), “anyone inured in person or property by a criminal act has, and may recover full damages in a civil action,” including attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.” Thus, if a manager, boss, or supervisor violates a criminal statute, he or she can be personally held liable is a civil action. Jacobson v. Kaforey, 2016-Ohio-8434. Ohio R.C. § 2905.03(A), which provides that “no person, without privilege to do so, shall knowingly restrain another of the other person’s liberty.” Similarly, R.C. § 2905.03(B) provides that “no person, without privilege to do so and with a sexual motivation, shall knowingly restrain another of the other person’s liberty.”

The second way employees are protected are under the common law tort of false imprisonment. Under Ohio law, false imprisonment occurs when a person confines another intentionally without privilege and against her consent within a limited area for any appreciable time, however short. Feliciano v. Kreiger, 50 Ohio St.2d 69 (1977); Bennett v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr. (1991), 60 Ohio St.3d 107, 109, 573 N.E.2d 633. “The essence of the tort is depriving someone of his or her liberty without lawful justification.” Monrean v. Higbee Dept. Stores, Inc., 11th Dist. No. 99–T–0099, 2001 WL 20808, *4 (Dec. 29, 2000)(citing Mullins v. Rinks, Inc., 27 Ohio App.2d 45, 48, 272 N.E.2d 152 (1st Dist. 1971).

Do I have to be physically restrained to have a false imprisonment claim?

Best Ohio Attorney Answer: No. The detention or restraint may be “imposed by force or threats.” Davis v. Peterson, 9th Dist. No. 16883, 1995 WL 134796, *2, (Mar. 29, 1995)(quoting Toledo v. Lowenberg, 99 Ohio App. 165, 167, 131 N.E.2d 682 (6th Dist. 1955). Since a threat may constitute confinement, the lack of physical force does not defeat a false-imprisonment claim. Ware v. Shin, 6th Dist. No. L–05–1130, 2006-Ohio-976, 2006 WL 513960, at ¶ 18.

Can I have a false imprisonment claim if my boss only locked me up for a short time?

Best Ohio Lawyer Answer: Yes. The amount of time is not a material factor in a false imprisonment claim. Although the law does not impose a bright line minimum length of time that an employee must be confined to rise to the level of being false imprisonment, the longer the length of time, the less reasonable the employer’s conduct will be.

Is it false imprisonment if I am told that I will be fired if I leave a room?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: Likely not. “When an individual voluntarily agrees to be in a certain place, that individual is not confined, since she is not held against her will.” Sharp v. Cleveland Clinic, 2008-Ohio-1777, ¶ 23, 176 Ohio App. 3d 226, 232, 891 N.E.2d 809, 813. This is true even if the person does not like the choice.

Although not an employment case, Condo v. B & R Tire Co., 7th Dist. No. 95 C.A. 166, 1996 WL 290963, *1 (May 29, 1996) provides a good example. In Condo, the plaintiff took his car to a mechanic to have his brakes inspected. The mechanic informed the plaintiff that his brakes were completely worn out and quoted the plaintiff a price of the repairs. When the plaintiff declined the repairs and asked for his vehicle to be returned, the mechanic would not return the car for the plaintiff to leave because of safety issues. Because the plaintiff could have left by foot, taxi or other means (no Uber back then), the Court dismissed the false imprisonment claim.

In Sharp v. Cleveland Clinic, 2008-Ohio-1777, ¶ 26, 176 Ohio App. 3d 226, 233, 891 N.E.2d 809, 814, this holding was applied in an employment case. Brianna Sharp was a registered nurse, who working at the Cleveland Clinic, where she claimed she was wrongfully imprisoned in the ER. The Court held:

In this matter, as was the case in Condo, the Cleveland Clinic’s prohibition against Sharp driving was reasonable under the circumstances. The Cleveland Clinic had reason to believe that Sharp was diverting narcotics for her personal use and, as a result, was under the influence of narcotics during the relevant time period. Thus, the employees of the Cleveland Clinic had reasonable concerns regarding Sharp’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Further, as was the case in Condo, Sharp was not prohibited from leaving the Cleveland Clinic; she was prohibited only from driving her car. As the trial court noted, Sharp could have called a taxi, taken public transportation, or called a friend for a ride. In fact, Sharp called her boyfriend for a ride, and she left the emergency room with him. Since Sharp was free to leave the emergency room, she was not confined during that time.

Can I be locked in a room if I was accused of theft?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: That answer is not clear and would likely depend on the facts of a particular case. “In false imprisonment, the essence of the tort consists in depriving the plaintiff of his liberty without lawful justification.” Mullins v. Rinks, Inc., 27 Ohio App. 2d 45, 48, 272 N.E.2d 152, 154 (Ohio Ct. App. 1971). Once restraint is shown, a presumption arises that such restraint was unlawful and shifts the burden of proof to the employer to show legal justification. Isaiah v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 111 Ohio App. 537, 542, 174 N.E.2d 128, 132 (9th Dist. 1959).

An example of legal justification is found in Ohio R.C. 2935.041(A), which provides and express lawful justification to deal with suspected shoplifters: “A merchant, or an employee or agent of a merchant, who has probable cause to believe that items offered for sale by a mercantile establishment have been unlawfully taken by a person, may, for the purposes set forth in division (C) of this section, detain the person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time within the mercantile establishment or its immediate vicinity.” But there is no equivalent statute for employers. There is a good argument that the legislature’s election to provide such a legal justification to one group (merchants) means that it intentionally chose not to do for other groups (such a employers); and that as a result employers must let employees leave while investigating even if it means that the employee is fired.

Some courts have held that employer’s have lawful justification to briefly hold an employee to investigate theft. However, it would likely be unlawful to involuntarily hold an employee in a locked room to investigate a clerical error, attendance problem, or otherwise minor issues.

It is important to note that even if an employer had an initial privilege to confine the individual,

liability may be imposed where the confinement exceeds reasonableness in relation to the privilege. See Retterer v. Whirlpool Corp., 111 Ohio App. 3d 847, 855, 677 N.E.2d 417, 422 (3rd Dist.1996).

Can I sue if I was accidentally locked in an area at work?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: No. Under Ohio law, “the tort of false imprisonment is an intentional tort and does not involve the legal concept of negligence.” Laughner v. Laughner, No. 56491, 1990 WL 4475, at *3 (Ohio Ct. App. Jan. 25, 1990). As such, in order to state a claim for false imprisonment, there must be intentional conduct.

How do I sue my employer?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: If you are searching “I need the top lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against or harassed based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our lawyers in Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Toledo, and Cincinnati to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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