Indiana Wrongful Termination Laws

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Gavel and Scales

Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Indiana, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.

But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. If your Indiana employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, for example, you may have a legal claim against your employer for wrongful termination.

Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your employer in Indiana for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Indiana employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Indiana employment lawyer. To learn more about Indiana employment law, contact the Indiana Department of Labor.

Discriminatory Firing

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers with a minimum number of employees must comply with these laws. Most types of discrimination are prohibited once an employer has at least 15 employees; the minimum is 20 employees for age discrimination and four employees for discrimination based on citizenship status.  

Indiana law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (40 to 75), disability, ancestry, or veteran status. All Indiana employers must comply with the law prohibiting age discrimination. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to the state disability discrimination law. For all other types of discrimination, employers are covered if they have at least six employees.

These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.

Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. In Indiana, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page

Breach of Contract

If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Indiana, an employment contract may be written, oral, or implied. In the first two types of contracts, your employer makes oral or written promises not to fire you for a certain period of time without good cause. In an implied contract, your acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. In Indiana, written statements in an employee handbook may change an employee's at-will status, but only if the length of employment is specified and the employee gives something in exchange for this promise. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.

Wage and Hour Issues

In Indiana, employees are entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Employees are also entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Although some states require employers to provide meal or rest breaks, Indiana is not one of them. However, under federal law, employers who choose to offer breaks of 20 minutes or less must pay their employees for that time. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for filing a wage claim, testifying in a wage hearing, or otherwise exercising rights under wage and hour laws. 

Time Off Work

State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Indiana, these rights include:

  • Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Under state law, employees who are members of the Indiana National Guard and state reserves are entitled to an unpaid leave of absence for as long as they are on active duty. Indiana law also requires employers to give members of the state reserves up to 15 days off per year for military training, as long as the employee gives notice 90 days in advance and provides evidence of completion of training on returning to work. Employers who don’t comply with this requirement face criminal charges. See Nolo’s article Indiana Military Leave Laws for more. 
  • Jury duty. Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave for jury duty, and they may not be deprived of benefits or threatened with loss of benefits for serving. Employers who fire or penalize an employee for jury service are subject to criminal penalties and special damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
  • Family and medical leave. Indiana employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is over. State law also requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to ten days of military family leave per year while a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or sibling is on active military duty. See Nolo’s article Family and Medical Leave in Indiana to learn more.

Other State Claims

  • Workers' compensation. Employers may not fire or otherwise retaliate against employees who have filed claims for workers' compensation benefits.
  • Work safety. Employers are prohibited from terminating employees who report violations of workplace safety laws. 
  • Off-duty conduct. Employers cannot fire employees for the lawful possession and use of firearms or for smoking tobacco while off-duty and away from the employer's premises. 

What to Do Next

If you think you were fired illegally, talk to an Indiana employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above. Whether you want to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or sue your employer in court, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide on how best to proceed.

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