In Illinois the majority of employment is categorized as at-will employment. This means that an employer or an employee can terminate their employment for any reason they choose as long as it is legal.
At-will employment tends to favor the employer, and for that reason there are numerous situations in which an employer will attempt to circumvent state or federal labor laws and terminate an employee illegally. This is called wrongful termination. Employers often get away with this because it can be an intimidating experience trying to challenge a former employer and finding sufficient evidence to prove that you were fired illegally.
There are specific reasons why termination of employment may not be legal, even when the employment is at-will. You may be able to file a complaint with the relevant government department or file a lawsuit with the help of an employment lawyer.
If you are able to win your claim against your employer, then this should mean your employer paying any wages due, including wages lost because of the termination, emotional damages, legal and court fees.
Is Illinois an At-Will State?
Yes, Illinois is an at-will state. An at-will state is one where employers are able to adopt an at-will policy for their employees, which gives both the employer and employee the right to terminate the employment relationship without giving any reason or notice. Unless an employer has an employment contract that states the employment is not at will, most employees are considered to be at will except in the state of Montana.
If you are fired in an at-will state like Illinois and you believe it is for an illegal reason such as discrimination or retaliation you may have been wrongfully terminated. This is because any termination that is found to be caused by an act of discrimination can be a wrongful termination.
Federal law protects workers from being fired due to their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, and age. In order to win a wrongful termination claim you have to provide evidence that discrimination was the reason for your firing.
To meet the definition of wrongful termination, it must be a breach of contract of an employment agreement and a violation of federal and/ or state laws. For example, firing an employee over their religious beliefs would violate federal civil rights law.
Firing an employee as retaliation for being a whistleblower may also be considered wrongful termination. A typical reason for retaliation is when an employer has complained about the employer for violating the law.
Wrongful Termination Laws in Illinois
Like most states, at-will employment represents the legal doctrine for establishing and maintaining employment relationships in Illinois. The legal doctrine means both employers and employees can terminate employment relationships, at any time without first providing a reason. For example, a worker does not have to give notice to an employer to quit a job and then go work for a competitor. Employers do not have to give notice nor provide a reason for terminating workers.
However, at-will employment in Illinois does not cover violations of state and federal law in four circumstances.
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate against workers based on several demographic factors, which include race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.
An employer that terminates a worker because of one or more acts of discrimination has violated the provisions written into Title VII. As a more comprehensive set of legal protections, the Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace, as well housing and public accommodations.
If you signed an employment contract to provide professional services over a designated period, the Illinois at-will employment doctrine might not apply to you if an employer terminated the contract. An employment contract stipulates pay, benefits, and the duration of the contract. If an employer violated any part of an employment contract, you should fight back against the employer for wrongfully firing you from the job.
American employers cannot fire workers because of whistleblowing. For example, let’s assume a worker contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concerning one or more workplace safety violations.
The whistleblower cannot be fired as an act of retaliation for communicating with OSHA. Proving an employer wrongfully terminated an employee as an act of retaliation can be difficult to do if there is not any physical evidence that supports the claim.
Both Illinois and federal employment laws protect workers when they take time off from work for legally valid reasons. Military personnel can take leave for as long as five years and still have their jobs available when they return to work.
Workers also have the right to take time off for voting and jury duty, without fear of losing their jobs. One of the most important laws passed to provide leave is called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA protects workers from termination by taking time off for illness and childbirth reasons.
If you feel your employer has wrongfully terminated you, the first step to take is to contact an employment attorney who specializes in handling Illinois wrongful termination. The first step involves your lawyer reviewing your case to determine whether your employer wrongfully terminated you based on one or more of the reasons listed above.
If your lawyer confirms you have a legally valid case, the next step is to gather and organize the evidence required to prove wrongful termination. Internal company documents, as well as any emails you have received, represent potentially convincing evidence that can help you build a strong Illinois wrongful termination case.
After collecting compelling evidence, your employment attorney decides on how to proceed with your case. You might file a complaint with the EEOC and/or file a civil lawsuit that seeks monetary damages. Most employment attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis if you decide to file a civil lawsuit. This means your lawyer gets paid when if receive monetary damages.
Types of Wrongful Termination
There are several common types of wrongful termination. These include:
- breach of an employment contract;
- retaliation for a legitimate action or complaint.
Both Illinois and federal legislation prohibits discrimination in the workplace. An employer cannot discriminate against an employee because of his/her:
- gender or gender orientation;
- religious affiliation;
- ethnic origin;
- political leaning;
Terminating an employee’s employment because they were considered too old, or had a disability that did not affect their work is illegal and the employer could be sued for wrongful termination. Generally, you would need to file a complaint first with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
If you have an employment contract or agreement, even if it is only an implied agreement, then your employer must stick to the agreed path for termination. If your job has been terminated and your employer has not followed what was laid out in the employment contract then you may have grounds for suing your employer for breach of contract. In this case, wrongful termination is just one example of a possible breach of contract.
Your employer cannot fire you for doing or saying something which is perfectly legal. This is called retaliation.
For example, if you believe that your employer has asked you to do something illegal, you have the right to complain or refuse to do it. Your employer cannot legally terminate your employment because of this. Other examples are if you have asked for time off for bereavement, sickness, jury service or applied for workers’ compensation after a workplace injury or illness.
How to Sue for Wrongful Termination in Illinois
Before you consider filing a complaint or suing your employer you may be able to reach a solution by talking to your HR department or your employer directly depending on the size of your place of employment.
Failing any satisfactory resolution, you should file a complaint with the relevant government agency. An employment lawyer can help direct you to the correct agency. In some cases of Illinois wrongful termination, such as discrimination, you may not be able to file a lawsuit until a complaint has been officially submitted to a government agency which will endeavor to follow up the complaint with your employer.
For claims of wrongful termination based on discrimination, you should file your complaint with the EEOC if the employer has 15 or more employees. For smaller employers file the complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights that oversees anti-discrimination laws in Illinois.
Either agency may be able to resolve the issues behind the termination of your employment allowing a return to work. If there is no resolution this may allow you to go ahead with a lawsuit against your employer.
Whatever the circumstances of your wrongful termination you will have to provide convincing evidence that your termination was illegal.
How Much Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination in Illinois?
In Illinois you may claim anywhere between $5,000 and $100,000 for wrongful termination. The amount will vary based on your situation and the damages you have been awarded.
In a claim for wrongful termination in Illinois the amount you may be awarded could include compensation for the following:
- lost wages from losing your job until you find a new one;
- medical costs for treating the emotional distress suffered due to the wrongful termination;
- costs associated with seeking a new job like out of pocket expenses for preparing a job application;
- lawyer’s fees;
- court costs;
- punitive damages;
- an amount calculated for the pain and suffering or emotional stress caused by the wrongful termination in Illinois.
There are other remedies that a court could decide to award you that are not monetary damages such as being reinstating back into the job and imposing an injunction on the employer preventing this type of behavior happening again that caused the wrongful termination to occur in the first place.
Because it is never easy to get the compensation you deserve for wrongful termination in Illinois hiring a wrongful termination lawyer can help you get the maximum allowable compensation in Illinois you deserve as the lawyer may know what kinds of evidence to gather which may help support an employee’s claim. For example, Illinois, unlike other states, requires evidence of an actual firing,
Get Help Today
It can be challenging enough being fired, but if you believe your employer behaved wrongly it may be difficult to know how to respond to it. This is where you should contact an Illinois employment lawyer before filing a complaint or considering suing your employer. A lawyer will assess your grounds for a complaint and will advise you how to proceed as well as what evidence you should provide.
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