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Kevin O'Flaherty

Illinois is an at-will employment state. As such, there are limited protections for employees as it relates to continuing their employment with an employer. There are some protections that are put into place based on the size of one’s employer and the manner in which employment is concluded. In most situations, employees have limited rights as it relates to their former employer but may be entitled to some public benefits.  In this article, we will explain what an Employee’s Rights are When Laid-off or Fired.

What does it mean to be an at-will employee?

There are two main types of employment relationships in Illinois. The first, and most common, is at-will employment. At-will employment is an arrangement where an employment relationship is entered into at the option of both the employee and the employer. Either the employee or the employer has the option to terminate the employment relationship at any time they choose. The State of Illinois does not provide significant protections to mandate or protect continued employment obligations.

The second type of employment is contractual employment. If you are a contract employee, the contract will define the rights and remedies of your employment relationship with your employer. This contract can expand or restrict the employment provisions generally extended under the law. The contract may also specify that the employment is at-will. If you are a contractual employee, you should review that document to determine if the rights or protections afforded by state law have been expanded or altered in any capacity.

For the purposes of the remainder of this article, the advice will be specific to at-will employees unless otherwise specified.

Manager explains employee rights to group of employees at table

Does an employer need to provide notice prior to my termination or lay off?

As a general rule, there is no notice that is require to the termination or lay-off of an at-will employee. An employer may end the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, if they choose to do so. The manner that employment is terminated will impact the rights of the former employee as it relates to unemployment benefits.

What is a for cause termination?

When an employee is terminated “for-cause” this means that the employee was relieved of their position due to some form of unacceptable conduct with their former employer. Common reasons for a for-cause termination include repeated violations of company policy, theft, or general malfeasance. Being terminated for-cause does affect the former employee’s rights to unemployment.

Fired employee puts personal items into box on desk

What should I do if I was wrongfully terminated?

As mentioned above, Illinois employers may terminate the employment relationship with an at-will employee for nearly any reason or no reason at all. However, an employer may not terminate an employee based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, age, marital status, physical or mental handicap, military service, or unfavorable military discharge. If an employee believes that they were terminated based on one of those listed reasons they may have a significant legal claim. That person should contact an attorney immediately to help determine the appropriate steps to pursue their claims.

Does the size of my employer impact my rights?

If an employer employs more than 75 employees, they are subject to the Illinois Work Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. The WARN Act establishes some limited protections as it relates to layoffs and terminations. If the employer is going to close their operations or conduct a mass lay-off, there is a 60-day advanced notice provision for the employees. Violations of this provision may result in employees being entitled to compensation depending on the employer’s justification for the violations.

Person views unemployment benefits application form on laptop

Am I entitled to severance pay?

In short, no. Illinois does not require that employers provide for employees to be provided with severance pay when their employment is terminated. An employer may, at their option, provide severance pay to an employee but there is no requirement.

Am I entitled to unemployment benefits?

There are multiple factors and issues related to determining if an individual is entitled to unemployment benefits. As a general rule, if employment is terminated as part of a lay-off or in a not for-cause termination, the employee will likely be able to receive unemployment benefits. If the termination is for-cause or the employee voluntarily leaves employment, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. It is for this reason that the distinction between a for-cause or not for-cause termination has a significant impact on a former employee’s rights moving forward.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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