Locked up and my employer won’t let me out: Have I been falsely imprisoned by my employer?

False imprisonment is the wrongful restraint, confinement or detainment of a person without that person’s consent. False imprisonment is a crime and can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the imprisonment. Additionally, false imprisonment is a common law tort and can arise in the employment context. To successfully sue your employer for false imprisonment, you must show:

  1. 1. you were detained, confined, or restrained against your will by your employer in the workplace; 
  2. 2. you did not consent to being detained; and
  3. 3. the detention was unreasonable or unlawful.

In order to show that you were detained, confined or restrained against your will, you must show that there was an impediment to your freedom. In other words, you must prove that your employer prevented you from leaving the room or area in which you were confined. Common examples of an employer confining an employee include, locking the door or placing someone or something at the door to block the exit. Keep in mind, however, that you must be completely confined in order for your employer’s action to qualify as false imprisonment. For instance, blocking your ability to exit the room in one direction is not enough. If there is another reasonable way to exit the room heading in a different direction, then false imprisonment has not occurred. 

Notably, false imprisonment does not require physical restraint. Meaning, your employer does not have to physically hold you down and keep you in the room or handcuff you. Rather, false imprisonment could occur if the employer threatens to harm you or your property if you leave. Additionally, false imprisonment could occur if the employer threatens to have you arrested if you leave.

With that being said, it is important to note that in the confines of a theft investigation, an employer is permitted to reasonably detain you to investigate the theft. However, the detention becomes illegal if you are detained for a long period of time, or if you are confined using force or if you are threatened. For instance, if you are detained and interrogated for five hours regarding theft of a pack of gum, the confinement is likely unreasonable. Similarly, if your employer detains you and handcuffs you to a table, the detainment is likely illegal and unreasonable. 

To pull this all together, let’s assume that Corona Virus works for Beer Mart. The store’s owner suspects that Corona Virus has stolen a bottle of Lightbud worth $3.29 from the store. Beer Mart’s owner launches an investigation into Corona Virus’ behavior. The owner grabs Corona Virus by the arm, detains her in a small room with no windows, locks the only door in the room, and intentionally detains Corona Virus against her will for hours, interrogating her and refusing to allow her leave. In that context, a court will likely find that Corona Virus was falsely imprisoned by Beer Mart’s owner because: (1) she was physically detained against her will by Beer Mart’s owner inside of a small room in the workplace; (2) she did not agree to be detained and asked to leave; and (3) she was detained and questioned for hours about stealing a $3.29 bottle of Lightbud. 

If you are successful in proving that you were falsely imprisoned, you must then show that you suffered monetary damages as a result. Damages are things like medical bills or the wages your lost due to missing work because of the false imprisonment. You may also have damages for emotional distress or psychological treatment you received as a result of the incident. 

Ultimately, false imprisonment claims require a case-by-case fact intensive analysis. If you believe you have been subjected to false imprisonment by your employer call us and schedule a consultation with an employment lawyer.

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