In legal terms, wrongful termination occurs when an employee is terminated for illegal reasons. Illegal reasons can include but are not limited to:
- Reasons that violate federal employment discrimination laws, such as firing someone because of their race, sex, religion, age, disability, etc.;
- Violations of state public policy, or, firing an employee for reasons that society as a whole deems as illegitimate reasoning for termination such as taking time off of work to vote or serve on a jury, as well as whistleblowing;
- Implied contracts, such as an employer promising permanent employment, or promising employment for a specific period of time but terminates the employment before the specified amount of time has passed;
- Retaliation, as in firing an employee for participating in legally protected activities such as formally complaining about sexual assault in the workplace; or
- Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, such as intentionally misleading employees regarding their chances of promotion or increased wages, firing or transferring employees in an attempt to prevent them from collecting sales commissions, etc.
Written promises, fraud, and defamation are some other examples of wrongful termination.
At-will employment means that the employer may fire the employee at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all-as long as the reason is not illegal. Whether the employee actually did anything wrong does not come into account; the employer simply needs to avoid any illegal action.
Furthermore, at-will employees are able to leave their job at any time, for any reason, without being responsible for a broken contract. Most employment in most states is considered at-will, including Indiana. Because of this, it can be difficult to prove wrongful termination in Indiana.
As previously mentioned, Indiana is an at-will employment state, and must adhere to legal termination requirements. The most common wrongful termination claims tend to involve civil rights issues, or discrimination. The State of Indiana especially takes employment discrimination seriously. As such, discrimination is heavily regulated. Additionally, there is no statute of limitations, such as a filing deadline, 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. These fifteen leave days are intended to allow the employee to perform their military duties or service. Thus, if an employee is terminated for taking their military leave, there could be grounds for a wrongful termination suit.
All states provide that a violation of principles of public policy could constitute wrongful termination. An example of this is firing an employee for whistleblowing, or reporting misconduct. In Indiana, a violation of this whistleblower law is treated as a Class A misdemeanor crime and is punishable by fines of up to $10,000.
Another generally universal wrongful termination condition involves attending jury duty; an employer could be liable for wrongful termination if they 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, and the employer could be liable for any additional civil claims brought by the employee.
Wrongful termination can be difficult to prove, especially in at-will employment states. However, this should not deter anyone from pursuing legal action if they have been wrongfully terminated. There are some legal remedies available to those who have had their employment wrongfully terminated, including but not limited to:
- Back Pay: The most common remedy is receiving back pay, in order to compensate the terminated employee for the wages they have lost dating from the time of termination to the time of trial. However, if the employee has found other employment in the time between the initial termination and the trial, their awarded damages will be reduced to reflect the new earnings;
- Employment Reinstatement: A judge may rule that the employer must reinstate the wrongfully terminated employee to their former position;
- Pain and Suffering: An employee may be awarded damages for pain and suffering if they have experienced mental anguish, discomfort, emotional turmoil, a decrease in the quality of their life, or similar negative effects as a direct result of being wrongfully terminated;
- Injunctive Relief: Injunctive relief is a court order in which the employer is required to do something, such as reinstatement, or cease doing something, such as basing their termination decisions on discriminatory criteria (race, gender, etc); or
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are intended to punish the employer and are rarely utilized, as they are usually reserved for especially egregious conduct.
Front pay, lost benefits, out of pocket losses, and attorney’s fees and costs are some other examples of legal remedies for wrongful termination.
In addition to monetary fines, an employer may be held personally liable for the losses an employee has incurred due to their wrongful termination. This means that if the company is unable to pay the court ordered monetary fines, the employer must use their own personal bank accounts to pay the fines to the employee.
As previously mentioned, it is often difficult to prove wrongful termination in at-will employment states. You will need to prove that your termination was done for illegal reasons, such as discrimination. In the State of Indiana, a business attorney who is qualified and knowledgeable will help you determine if there is any legal basis to your claim. Additionally, they will help you file your claims, represent you in court, and negotiate any available legal remedies.