What is Considered Discrimination in the Workplace in Illinois?

Illinois Employment Discrimination Laws Explained

Video by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Article written by Illinois Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
September 3, 2019

In this article, we explain the employment discrimination laws in Illinois, including how to file a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Resources (IDHR). Federal and state law prohibits all Illinois employers from discriminating against employees.

What is Considered Discrimination in the Workplace in Illinois?

In the state of Illinois, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals based on the following protected categories:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability (physical and mental)
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Military and veteran status (including unfavorable military discharge)
  • Gender identity
  • Arrest record (including being under an order of protection)
  • Victims of domestic violence
  • Lack of a permanent mailing address or use of a shelter/social service provider


Employment discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfairly or takes a negative employment action against an employee based on the employee being a member of a protected class.

Most of the above regulations apply to Illinois employers with 15 or more employees, except for age, citizenship status, and equal pay. Employers with 20 or more employees cannot discriminate against age, employers with 4 or more employees cannot discriminate against citizenship status, and all employers must provide equal pay for both men and women. Employers with 1 or more employees have to comply with the law’s provisions regarding disability, pregnancy, and sexual harassment.

What is the Equal Opportunity Commission?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace discrimination, and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) is the state department responsible for enforcing state antidiscrimination laws. The IDHR protects Illinois employees by investigating charges of employment discrimination filed against private employers, state or local government, unions and employment agencies. Individuals can also file charges, in some cases.


When seeking to file a lawsuit for workplace discrimination, you must first file a report with the EEOC.  This is a required prelude to a lawsuit. Before an attorney can file suit for your matter, you must have your claim investigated by the EEOC.  If you are unsure about the process of filing with the EEOC, you may benefit from working with an attorney who better understands what is required and how to best assure your case is heard properly.  Discrimination can be complex to prove, so working with an attorney even before the court room can assure you are protecting yourself and clarifying your claims, which may be helpful to your case overall.  

The IDHR administers the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in Illinois with respect to employment opportunity, financial credit, public accommodations, housing, and sexual harassment. Illinois law even protects disabled employees more than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, as it defines disability or handicap as a “determinable mental or physical characteristic of a person,” and doesn’t require employees to have a substantial limitation of a major life activity. State law also prohibits “aiding and abetting” discrimination, meaning assisting in or not preventing the discrimination from happening.

What is the Illinois Anti-Discrimination Statute?

The Illinois anti-discrimination statute covers smaller employers who may not be covered by federal law regarding ageism, retaliation, and sexual harassment claims. When it comes to charges alleging sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation, and disability discrimination, only 1 employee is needed for the IDHR to investigate a case.

The IDHR cannot investigate the following actions:

  • Unfair employment actions, including political affiliations, personality conflicts, etc.
  • Unfair union practices
  • Charges against the federal government – these cases can only be filed with the EEO office of the agency alleged to have discriminated
  • Employers with fewer than 15 employees, unless the type of discrimination is sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation, or disability – unless the employer is a public contractor or a unit of state government

If you feel your employer has discriminated against you, you can file a discrimination claim on the state level with the IDHR or the federal administrative agency, the EEOC. Both of these agencies cooperate with each other to process claims, so filing a claim with both agencies isn’t necessary. If you want both agencies to have record of or investigate the claim, be sure to request to “cross-file” the claim with whatever agency you’re filing with.

A claim can be initiated by calling, writing or appearing in person at the IDHR’s Chicago or Springfield location within 300 days of the date the alleged discrimination happened. If the discrimination is related to housing, that deadline extends to 365 days. To file a claim, you must submit a completed Employment Complainant Information Sheet (CIS). If your allegations fall under the Illinois Human Rights Act, a charge will be drafted for your signature.

To contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), call 800-669-4000. To contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR), call 312-814-6200. You can call us at 630-390-4270 to schedule an appointment with an attorney.  


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