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

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 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).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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