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EMPLOYMENT-AT-WILL? YES! EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION? NO!

cardboard sign that says discrimination

Yes, Indiana is an employment-at-will state. That means an employee may be fired at any time, for any lawful reason – or no reason at all. It also means an employee may quit the job at any time for any reason, or no reason at all.

But at-will doesn’t mean that you have no civil rights. Laws exist to ensure that employees are treated safely, that they are not unfairly discriminated against, and that their work environment is safe. Even after you become separated from employment, you have certain rights. As employment lawyers, all of us at Ramey & Hailey know those rights and those laws.

BEFORE: Laws against discrimination begin with the hiring process; every decision an employer makes in the process of pre-employment screening and interviewing must be made without regard to:

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • gender
  • age
  • disability (assuming the individual is qualified for the job)

DURING: Once an employee begins the job, decisions about promotions, transfers and assignments, or layoffs must be made without regard to those same discriminatory factors.

AFTER: Even after an employee has left or been let go, there are rights that must be honored. Your former employer may not give a false and damaging report about you to a prospective employer. If you sustained injuries on the job, you may qualify for unemployment compensation.

Besides the discrimination factors listed above, are there any times when an employer is not allowed to fire an employee “at will”?  Yes, there are four exceptions to at-will firing:

  • The employee cannot be fired for refusing to perform an act that state law prohibits (falsifying the books, giving false testimony at trial).
  • The employee cannot be fired for reporting a violation of the law (whistleblowing) or for joining a union.
  • The employee cannot be fired for engaging in acts that are in the public interest (joining the National Guard or serving jury duty.
  • The employee cannot be fired for filing a worker’s compensation claim or exercising another statutory right.

If I bring a lawsuit against an employer, what remedies are available? As your representative in an employment discrimination case, we will be requesting (depending on the circumstances):

  • back pay (lost earnings resulting from the unfair firing)
  • “front pay” (future earnings lost because of the discrimination)
  • lost benefits (health, dental, life insurance, pension or 401k contributions)
  • emotional distress damages
  • punitive damages
  • attorney fees

The SkloverWorkingWisdom blog offers a four-point checklist you can use to get a good idea of whether you have a strong employment discrimination claim or not:

  • You are a member of a “protected class”, based on age, race, gender, disability, pregnancy, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, genetic background.
  • You are qualified for the position you were seeking, or which you lost.
  • You suffered an “adverse employment action”.
  • The circumstances seem to imply discrimination.

Employment discrimination cases can be very difficult to prove, but at Ramey & Hailey, we are dedicated to making sure that employees are treated fairly and safely.  It’s the law!

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