Indiana, like most states, has adopted the “at will” employment doctrine. The rule states that, in the absence of a written contract specifying the terms of employment, an employer can fire an employee without cause at any time, and likewise, an employee can quit his job at any time without giving a reason. In other words, the employment can be ended at the will of either the employer or employee. While this rule may appear to be broad and far reaching, it is subject to a significant limitation. An employee may not be terminated for an improper reason; such a termination is “wrongful” and can be set aside by a court.
Wrongful termination of an at will employment contract
The reasons that can render a discharge wrongful are generally reasons that contradict settled public policy. These reasons include:
- Firing in violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws;
- Firing as a form of sexual harassment;
- Firing in violation of oral and written employment agreements;
- Firing in violation of state or federal labor laws, including collective bargaining laws;
- Firing in retaliation for the employee’s having filed a complaint or claim against the employer; and
- Firing as part of a program of racial or gender discrimination.
Proving the existence of a wrongful intent
The employee bears the burden of proving the existence of an improper purpose. Generally, such proof takes the form of oral statements by the plaintiff or fellow employees. Occasionally, documents obtained from the employer during discovery can also help prove the case.
Any person who feels that he or she has been the victim of a wrongful termination may wish to speak to an experienced employment lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can provide a helpful evaluation of the evidence and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages and attorney’s fees.