Wrongful termination is sometimes referred to as unlawful termination, and is an employment law term referring to when an employer fires an employee for illegal or unauthorized reasons. These include reasons that:
- Violate federal, state, or local laws;
- Go against public policy; and/or
- Breach the terms of an employment agreement.
Additionally, wrongful termination can occur when an employer fires an employee who has refused to obey work instructions that are illegal. This could include unlawful activities such as disregarding safety regulations for a specific job task, or asking them to commit even more serious crimes. An example of this would be a felony offense such as larceny or tax evasion.
An employee can be unlawfully terminated when an employer ignores their own company’s policies associated with the termination process. An example of this would be if the employer does not follow proper protocols when releasing an employee from their position.
It is important to note that if an employer terminates an employee in a manner that is considered to be unlawful or illegal, they can face legal consequences for doing so. The employer may be required to compensate the employee in some way, including:
- Reimburse them in back pay;
- Reinstating them to their prior position; and/or
- Paying them monetary compensation intended for a circumstances-specific reason.
As previously mentioned, an employer cannot terminate an employee for any reason that is considered to be illegal or unauthorized. Some examples of what may constitute wrongful termination include, but may not be limited to:
- Retaliatory Discharge: An employer cannot terminate an employee for filing a legal complaint against their business. This is because employees are protected under the law for reporting certain activities, such as harassment in the workplace and employee wage violations, in addition to other public policy exceptions. An example of this would be how if an employee requests time off in order to attend a mandatory jury duty session, their employer is not allowed to fire them for complying with such a request.
- Another example would be if the employee files a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) if a supervisor is participating in quid pro quo sexual harassment against an employee. The employee has a right to file a complaint with the EEOC in order to stop their behavior. If the supervisor fires the worker for reporting them, their termination will be considered to be unlawful;
- Discrimination: If an employer decides to terminate any employee who turns 60, based on no other reason except for their age, this would be an example of unlawful termination due to discriminatory practices;
- Taking Leave: Businesses who are governed by specific federal and state guidelines cannot terminate an employee for taking a valid medical, family, or personal leave of absence from work. An example of this would be if an employee requested time off to take care of a sick child or parent, assuming that the employee complied with the relevant laws. They are permitted to do so, and as such cannot be fired for it; and/or
- Fraudulent Concealment: Under specific circumstances, an employee may be able to bring a claim for unlawful termination based on fraudulent concealment. Fraudulent concealment refers to when an employer intentionally misleads their employees about their job responsibilities. An example of this would be if an employee leaves their former job in order to accept one that seems like a better opportunity. If their new employer or the person who hired them concealed the fact that they were terminating all of their workers as soon as the new job was complete, in order to get them to accept the position, the employee could have a wrongful termination claim based on fraudulent concealment.
What Is At-Will Employment? Can An At-Will Employee Be Wrongfully Terminated?
At-will employment is used in employment agreements to describe the employment status of an employee. Most specifically, it means that the employee is being hired for an indefinite period of time. The term can also mean that their employer has the right to terminate them at any time without cause, meaning for any reason or no reason at all. However, it also means that the employee has the right to terminate their own employment at any time, for any or no reason.
To put it simply, neither the employer nor the employee need a justified reason for terminating the employment relationship. Any reason for termination will be considered a proper basis for termination, so long as it is not illegal or discriminatory as previously discussed.
One of the issues associated with at-will employment is that regardless of whether it is the employee or employer who decides to terminate the employment relationship, the other party has no way to prevent it from happening.
Additionally, at-will employees are subject to an employer’s decisions, which means that the employer has the right to change the terms of their employment without notice and will not face any consequences for doing so. An example of this would be how an employer can terminate an at-will employee’s benefits or reduce their wages, and cannot be penalized for making these decisions.
Is Indiana An At-Will Employment State?
To reiterate, at-will employment means that the employer may fire the employee as long as the reason is not illegal. And, at-will employees are able to leave their job without being responsible for a broken contract. Most employment relationships in most states are considered to be at-will, including Indiana. Because of this, it may be difficult to prove wrongful termination in Indiana.
Because Indiana is an at-will employment state, they must adhere to legal termination requirements. The most common wrongful termination claims in the state generally involve civil rights issues, or discrimination. The State of Indiana especially takes employment discrimination seriously, meaning that discrimination is heavily regulated. Additionally, there is no statute of limitations for workplace disputes that involve discrimination.
Indiana requires private employers to provide their employees with fifteen days of leave for those who are in the military, which are intended to allow the employee to perform their military duties or service. Because of this, if an employee is terminated for taking their eligible military leave, there could be grounds for a wrongful termination suit.
Once again, all states have determined that a violation of principles of public policy could constitute wrongful termination. In the state of Indiana, a violation of this whistleblower law is treated as a Class A misdemeanor crime. As such, it is punishable by criminal fines of up to $10,000. If an Indiana employer were to terminate an employee for taking time off of work to fulfill their jury duty obligations, Indiana will fine the employer up to one thousand dollars for such actions. Additionally, the employer could be held liable for any additional civil claims that are brought by the employee.
What Are Some Legal Remedies Associated With Wrongful Termination?
Some legal remedies available to those who have had their employment wrongfully terminated include, but may not be limited to:
- Back Pay: Back pay is intended to compensate the terminated employee for any wages that they have lost, dating from the time of termination to the time of trial. However, if the employee has found other employment in this time, their awarded damages will be reduced in order to reflect the new earnings;
- Employment Reinstatement: The employer may be ordered to reinstate the wrongfully terminated employee to their former position, if the employee so chooses;
Pain and Suffering: An employee may be awarded damages for pain and suffering if they have experienced any of the following as a direct result of being wrongfully terminate:
- Mental anguish;
- Emotional turmoil; and/or
- A decrease in the quality of their life.
- Injunctive Relief: This is a court order in which the employer is required to do something, such as reinstatement. They may be ordered to cease doing something, such as basing their termination decisions on discriminatory criteria; and/or
- Punitive Damages: These are intended to punish the employer, and are rarely utilized, as they are generally reserved for especially egregious conduct.
Do I Need An Attorney For Wrongful Termination In Indiana?
If you suspect you have been wrongfully terminated in the state of Indiana, you will need to consult with an experienced and local Indiana wrongful termination attorney. A local lawyer can help you understand your rights and legal options under Indiana law. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.