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How can you be wrongfully terminated in an at-will state?

On Behalf of | Jun 30, 2024 | Employment Law

Like most of the rest of the United States, Indiana is an “at-will” employment state. In a nutshell, that means that both the employer and the employee are generally free to end their working relationship at any time.

This can be confusing to a lot of employees. In an at-will state, how can wrongful termination happen? It all depends upon whether the underlying reason for your termination is discriminatory and illegal (or not).

Examples of legal reasons for termination

Many people consider at-will employment to heavily favor employers since employees can be fired for many issues unrelated to their job performance or corporate downsizing. For example, your employer could fire you because:

  • Someone spread some gossip about you, and your employer believed them.
  • Another employee accused you of stealing, and your employer didn’t care about proof.
  • They simply decide you don’t fit the company culture or aren’t a “good fit” for the job.
  • You have a personality conflict with your boss (or they just don’t like you).
  • Your boss has a fight with one of your relatives and takes it out on you.

In other words, your boss can fire you for a lot of reasons – even bad ones – and that’s perfectly legal.

Examples of wrongful termination

However, your boss cannot fire you for any illegal reason. Illegal reasons are typically either retaliatory because you engaged in a protected action or discriminatory based on your inclusion in a protected class. For example:

  • You filed a sexual harassment complaint against your supervisor, and you are let go the next day.
  • You announce your pregnancy, and your employer fires you because they don’t believe you are “committed to the job”
  • You are let go during “downsizing,” which seems only to affect employees over 40 years of age.

Just because you work in an at-will employment state, that doesn’t mean you can’t be the victim of wrongful termination. If you suspect that you may be, it can be helpful to obtain legal guidance and discuss the specifics.


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