Can an employer force me to pay a fee for breaking my contract?

I am an elementary teacher in Indiana. I signed a one-year contract with a
school, but quit the job prior to the end of my contract. My former employer is
now asking me to pay a 3000 fee for breaking my contract. In my contract it
states that the employer is ‘at will’. If the employer is at will, does that also
indicate that the employee is at will?

Asked on April 13, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Indiana

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It is legal for the contract to be "at will" for one side not the other, so the employer could have more rights to terminate the agreement than you. That does not mean, however, that they can automatically get a $3,000 fee for breaking the contract, unless the contract specifically included such a fee. Otherwise, to recover money from you (if you don't pay voluntarily), they'd have to sue you and in court prove that your quitting early damaged them in some way, then prove the extent or amount of damage, which is what they could recover. If they were not actually damaged (i.e. lost a measurable amount of money) from you quitting, they could not recover anything (again, unless the contract specified a set penalty or fee in the event you quit early).


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