Many employers reason that since Indiana is an “at will” state, an employee can be fired for any reason as long as it does not violate a state or federal statute. While technically true, if an employer wants to invite a lawsuit, it will commit one or more of the following mistakes.
If the problem employee has a performance issue and was never written up or counseled, in reality he is being terminated without any prior warning and, in the employees mind, being discriminated against. The best defense in a real or perceived discrimination claim is a file folder of discipline and counseling sessions to demonstrate legitimate business reasons for the action. If it is not documented, how do you prove it happened after the fact.
However, you also need to follow your own company handbook to avoid claims that the reason for termination was not pre-textual. Is the employer ignoring its own company investigation and complaint procedure? Was the code of conduct abided by or is the reason outside of the parameters of the employee handbook? Failure to follow company policies that it followed with other employees can give rise to the claim or inference that this employee is being singled out.
Finally, employers frequently inform former employees that they will only receive their final paycheck when the company equipment they were issued is returned. However, final paychecks must be issued on the regular payday and not be held hostage by the employer. Indiana has a statute that states as much. The remedy is to have the employee sign a wage assignment form upon the issuance of the equipment. Otherwise, the company is facing statutory damages and attorney fees if it does not timely pay the check.
By avoiding these everyday mistakes, businesses may steer clear of a lawsuit or strengthen its’ position if challenged.