What is Wrongful Termination in Illinois?

Wrongful Termination in Illinois Explained

Video by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 28, 2019

In this article, we explain the employment termination laws in Illinois. We answer the question, “what is wrongful termination in Illinois?” and  “Examples of wrongful termination in Illinois.”  We explain 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?

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

While employers are allowed to fire employees without any reason, Illinois law does protect workers from termination due to race, sex, age, national origin, disabilities, pregnancy, citizenship status, religion, marital status, and more. For most kinds of discrimination, this law applies to Illinois employers with 15 or more employees; the prohibition against age discrimination applies to Illinois employers with 20 or more employees; and the ban against citizenship status discrimination applies to Illinois employers with only 4 or more employees. Illinois employers of any size have to comply with the law prohibiting disability discrimination. Employers are also not allowed to terminate a worker in retaliation for a rightful action he or she has taken, like claiming workers compensation, filing a wage claim, or reporting harassment in the workplace.

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.

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Wrongful Termination and Employment Contracts in Illinois

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