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Kevin O'Flaherty

Wrongful termination in Illinois is when employers violate the Illinois "at-will" rule by firing you for an illegal reason. Such illegal reasons include the employer violating anti-discrimination laws, violating employment contracts, retaliation against the employee for a protected action, termination for protected time off, etc.

In this article, we explain the employment termination laws in Illinois, what to do if you have been wrongfully terminated in Illinois, and we discuss wrongful termination and employment contracts and wrongful termination due to time off work.

What is Wrongful Termination in Illinois?

Wrongful termination in Illinois happens when legal principles are violated, such as discrimination, retaliation or breach of contract. For example, if you were fired due to your race, gender or age. It could be a wrongful dismissal case for reporting harassment.

Illinois is an “at-will” employment state, meaning employers and workers can generally both end employment agreements without an extended notice or explanation at any time.  

Wrongful termination comes into play when employers violate the exceptions to Illinois’ “at-will” rule, including:

  • Discrimination,
  • Violation an employment contract,
  • Retaliation for certain protected actions; and
  • Termination for protected time off work.

Wrongful Termination and Discrimination in Illinois

In Illinois, while employers can dismiss employees without specifying a reason, they must adhere to laws that safeguard against wrongful termination. Workers are protected from being fired due to race, sex, age, national origin, disabilities, pregnancy, citizenship status, religion, and marital status. Specific thresholds exist for certain protections: discrimination based on age applies to employers with 20 or more employees, citizenship status discrimination pertains to those with at least 4 employees, while disability discrimination laws cover employers of any size. Moreover, it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for legitimate actions such as filing a wage claim, claiming workers' compensation, or reporting harassment. Individuals facing dismissal without cause might consider consulting an employment law attorney or a wrongful termination lawyer to explore a wrongful termination claim or constructive dismissal issues in Illinois. This legal support can provide crucial guidance and advocacy in challenging a former employer's actions.

Recognizing Discriminatory Practices Leading to Termination

Recognizing unlawful termination necessitates knowing what kinds of practices could be considered discriminatory. For example, if you were let go because of your race, gender, or age. Reporting inappropriate behavior in the workplace, then this may constitute discrimination and thus, wrongful dismissal.

Retaliatory Discharge: When Employer Retaliation Crosses the Line

When an employer fires someone in retribution for taking part in legally protected activities like filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting workplace safety violations, it is classified as retaliatory discharge, another type of wrongful termination. This can be seen in situations such as terminating whistleblowers, dismissing employees who decline to take part in illegal practices, and firing individuals who file worker’s comp claims. To understand how Illinois employment law plus federal laws present legal safeguards that shield people from unjust terminations, they should consult with an experienced Illinois employment lawyer. An attorney will explain the different avenues available to ensure their rights are protected when facing improper dismissal by employers at any time during one’s working relationship.

Wrongful Termination in Illinois Explained

Wrongful Termination and Employment Contracts in Illinois

If you have an employment contract that provides you with job security, Illinois’s “at-will” rule may not apply to you. In Illinois, employment contracts may be written, oral, or implied. In oral and written contracts, employers often agree to not fire a worker for a specified amount of time without a legitimate reason. In implied contracts, your employer doesn’t necessarily promise job security, but you may have reasonable expectations to work for your employer for an extended amount of time; for example, if your employee handbook states that employees won’t be fired unless certain disciplinary steps are followed, you may have an implied contract that outlines your rights prior to termination. If you have any kind of employment contract and are wrongfully terminated, you may have a legal claim for breach of contract.

Wrongful Termination Due to Time Off Work

Both state and federal laws protect employees when taking time off work in specific scenarios, including civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Illinois workers cannot be legally terminated for exercising the following rights:

  • Military leave; up to five years.
  • Jury duty.
  • Voting.
  • Family and medical leave; up to 12 weeks every year or 26 weeks in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military.
  • Other protected leave; time off to see a spouse or child who has been deployed to military service, to seek medical treatment, to seek assistance for domestic violence, to attend school activities and conferences for their children.

Examples of Legal Termination in Illinois

When it comes to legal termination, Illinois employers are allowed to fire workers for any reason outside of anything defined as discriminatory under the law. These reasons include work performance, work quality, workplace behavior, lack of productivity, disrespectful behavior, insubordination, excessive tardiness, creating a hostile work environment, and more.

What to do if You Have been Wrongfully Terminated in Illinois?

If you are interested in filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you need to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit.  This means that you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency.

In Illinois, the state discrimination laws are enforced by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which has offices in Chicago, Marion, and Springfield.  The first step in a wrongful termination case is to file a claim with the EEOC. Once the EEOC considers your case evidence, it will file a lawsuit and can provide you with a list of qualified attorneys upon request. If you are an employee of the federal government, you’ll have to undergo a different filing process.  If the EEOC does not rule in your favor, you may then have the option to file a lawsuit in the appropriate circuit court.  

It is advantageous to work with an attorney from the outset of the process in order to give you the best chance for a favorable resolution with the EEOC.  Your attorney will assist you in drafting the EEOC complaint, follow up periodically to make sure your case stays on track, and assist you in exploring your other options, such as civil litigation, if the EEOC does not provide you with an adequate remedy.

Filing a Claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights

The Illinois Department of Human Rights has the responsibility for implementing discrimination laws in this state. If you think that your termination was due to some kind of discriminatory or retaliatory action, then it is necessary to take up with them.

You must register a charge regarding prejudice within 300 days after the alleged unfair activity happened. Should substantial proof be found during their examination process, they will issue what’s known as ‘Notice of Right to Sue’, and once received there is 90 days granted where legal steps may be taken against an employer by using such document as evidence.

Understanding Monetary Damages and How They Are Calculated

When it comes to compensation for wrongful termination cases, monetary damages often involve past and future earnings. This involves assessing the yearly wages from the job - salary, commissions plus any bonuses - and multiplying this by how many years one would have stayed employed if not wrongfully terminated in order to figure out what’s been lost.

For non-economic losses like pain and suffering that are associated with such occurrences, a method commonly used is known as the multiplier approach. Whereby economic damage (like wage loss) gets multiplied by an appropriate number according to severity of said harm suffered.

Beyond Money: Other Forms of Relief in Wrongful Termination Cases

When it comes to wrongful termination cases, there are more forms of relief than just monetary compensation. This could include reinstatement into the job position if deemed appropriate and feasible by both parties involved or non-economic damages such as emotional distress or harm done to a person’s reputation. In some scenarios, an injunction may also be sought in order to stop employers from taking certain actions until they reach a resolution with the employee impacted by their decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of wrongful termination in Illinois?

Wrongful termination in Illinois is when a person’s employment comes to an end unlawfully due to their nationality, race, gender identity or expression, religion, disability status or age. As these factors are protected by law from discrimination and harassment at the workplace, it’s considered unlawful if someone loses his/her job because of one of those criteria.

What makes a strong wrongful termination case?

When it comes to building a strong wrongful termination case, evidence like witness testimony, emails/text messages and performance reviews plays an integral role. The credibility of both the employer and employee is essential in proving any discrimination or harassment happened at their workplace.

How long do I have to file a wrongful termination lawsuit in Illinois?

In Illinois, you are given 5 years to make a claim regarding wrongful termination, but it’s recommended that you quickly speak with an attorney for the best chance of making a strong case.

How do I prove wrongful termination in Illinois?

In Illinois, an individual can prove wrongful termination if they have been dismissed due to engaging in a protected activity and the discharge goes against established public policy.

What are the legally recognized protected characteristics in Illinois?

In Illinois, certain characteristics are officially protected from discrimination. These include race, gender, age range, place of origin outside the U.S., disabilities and pregnancy conditions, nationality status, religious belief system or marital designation.

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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