Wrongful termination, which is sometimes called wrongful dismissal or wrongful discharge, occurs when an employer terminates an employee for reasons that aren’t considered lawful. Wrongful termination laws are designed to offer clarity as to what constitutes wrongful termination and to give employees who feel they were wrongfully terminated recourse. Much of today’s wrongful termination laws involve the doctrine of at-will employment, so it is necessary for employers to become familiar with both at-will employment and wrongful discrimination laws to avoid becoming the subject of an employee lawsuit.
At-Will Employment in Indiana
Indiana is one of many states that observe the doctrine of at-will employment. Essentially, the term means that employers in at-will employment states do not need good reason to terminate employee relationships. Rather, with few exceptions, employers can fire their workers at any time, and for practically any reason. On the flip side, Indiana’s employees are able to quit their jobs at any time and for virtually any reason, although, again, a number of exceptions do apply.
Wrongful Termination in Indiana
While most Indiana employees are considered “at-will,” a number of exceptions exist. For example, Indiana employees cannot be fired for observing jury duty, or for exercising a protected right. They also cannot be fired for refusing to perform a criminal or illegal act, such as refusing to operate a company vehicle with a load that exceeds a particular weight limit. Indiana’s employees who are under existing contracts also cannot be terminated, nor can they quit while still under the terms of the contract. Any employer who violates these stipulations may face wrongful termination charges in an Indiana court of law.
Breach of Contract: Despite its status as an at-will employment state, there are a number of circumstances in which an Indiana employer can be charged with breach of contract. Generally, breach of contract laws apply to oral contracts, written contracts, collective bargaining contracts in unions and virtually any situation where a valid employment offer was made by one party and accepted by the other. In some situations, guarantees written in employee handbooks are considered contractual. For example, if a handbook states that an employee must receive three strikes (notifications of infractions) before he or she can be terminated and the employee is then fired without receiving any “strikes” at all, the employer may be found to be in breach of contract.
Discrimination: In the United States, most wrongful termination cases involve allegations of discrimination on some level. Indiana state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against workers due to race, color, sex, religious affiliation, disability, ancestry or country of origin. Age discrimination is also considered illegal. However, state laws prevent employees from taking employers to court based on this type of discriminatory practice. It is also worth noting that Indiana’s discrimination laws relating to disabilities are stronger than they are at the federal level, because the state defines “disabilities” more broadly than the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under Indiana law, workers can allege discrimination based on disability even if the disability doesn’t limit one’s performance in major life activities.
Retaliation: In the state of Indiana, business owners may not fire employees for retaliatory purposes, meaning they cannot terminate employees because they feel the employee is going to harm them or their business. For example, an employee cannot legally be fired for engaging in whistleblowing behaviors or for calling attention to unfair business practices. They also cannot be terminated for filing complaints about occupational safety risks, or for refusing to participate in illegal activities for the employer.
Public Policy: Indiana is among many states that observe a public policy exception to the concept of at-will employment. Essentially, this means employers are not allowed to fire workers for reasons society would consider unlawful. For example, an employer cannot terminate an employee for refusing to perform sexual acts, because doing so would contradict public policy. Additionally, an employee cannot be fired for attempting to seek worker’s compensation pay, since he or she is legally allowed to do so.
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