Getting laid off, fired, or not having your contract renewed can be a terrible experience. Unfortunately for many workers, the law protects employers who fire an employee for no reason at all. However, if your employer illegally discharged you from your job, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. If you were wrongfully discharged, or think that your employer may terminate you in the future, talk to an experienced employment law attorney about filing a wrongful discharge claim.
Reasons for Terminating an Employee
Illinois is an “employment-at-will” state. This means that an employer can terminate the employer-employee relationship at any time, without needing to show cause. Reasons could include an employee showing up 1 minute late, not liking the employee's shoes, or for just because the employer felt like it. Similarly, the employee can also generally leave the job at any time for any reason or no reason.
However, there are a number of reasons that an employer cannot discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an employee. The law offers some protection for wrongfully discharged employees if they were discriminated against based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, age, marital status, physical or medical handicap, or military service. The Illinois Department of Human Rights protects employees from discriminatory treatment in employment for these reasons.
State and Federal Employment Protections
There are a number of federal laws and Illinois state laws that protect employees from wrongful discharge from work. This includes the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the American Disabilities Act (ADA); Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA); the Illinois Human Rights Act; Whistleblower Act, and others.
Discharged Because of Discrimination
Being protected from discrimination in employment is a human right in the state of Illinois. An employer cannot discriminate against an employee for an illegal reason when they decide to terminate the employee. Unfortunately, most employers do not come right out and say that they are firing an employee because of their race, sex, color, or religion. Even if the employee knows they were being discriminated against, it can be difficult for them to prove that they were wrongfully terminated. An experienced Illinois employment law attorney can help to investigate the claim, and uncover evidence of discrimination to help the wrongfully terminated employee get justice.
There may be discrete signs of employment discrimination that an employee should look for. This includes making racially charged comments, sharing inappropriate jokes, or routinely favoring certain employees over others. In many cases, if an employee complains about perceived discrimination, the employer may brush it off, or even threaten to retaliate against the employee for voicing their opposition.
When an employee reports an employer for violating a state or federal law, the employer may not retaliate against the employee, including wrongfully discharging the employee. The Illinois Whistleblower Act protects employees from disclosing certain information to government or law enforcement agencies, including reporting violations of a state or federal rule, law or regulation. This includes reporting unpaid wages, filing a complaint under the Equal Pay Act, refusing to do something illegal, or reporting OSHA safety violations.
Retaliatory discharge as a cause of action was recognized by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1978 after an employee was discharged in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. The court found that the benefits of the workers' compensation program would be undermined if an injured employee was terminated for filing a compensation claim.
Violating an Employment Contract
In some employer-employee relationships, a contract may control how an employee can be discharged. A contract may provide that an employee can only be terminated for certain reasons, or the employer has to go through specific procedures before an employee can be discharged. If the employer violated the provisions of the contract when discharging an employee, the employee may have a legal claim for wrongful discharge.
Filing a Wrongful Discharge Claim
If an employee is wrongfully discharged from work, they may need to take certain steps to pursue a legal claim against their employer. The process may depend on the specific facts of the case and the reason the employee was terminated. For example, a complaint of employment discrimination may be filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR). If the complaint is not resolved through the initial procedural channels, the employee may file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Many people think that they were wrongfully discharged after being fired or laid-off. However, the law only recognizes certain categories of activity as illegal employment action. Before filing a wrongful discharge claim, the discharged employee should consider talking to an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can help the employee determine if they have an initial claim, strengthen their case, investigate their claim to develop additional evidence, and file their claim in state or federal court. In many cases, your employment law attorney will take your case on a contingent fee basis. This means that you don't have to pay any upfront costs, and your lawyer will only receive compensation if you win your case.
Wrongful Discharge Remedies and Damages
When pursuing a wrongful discharge claim, the plaintiff should consider what kind of remedy they are looking for. Damages for a wrongful discharge claim can include back pay with interest, attorney's fees, and court costs. In some cases, non-economic damages may be available after a wrongful termination, such as damages for emotional harm. Some employees may also want to be reinstated to their former job or given a promotion. An employer may also have to make reasonable accommodations for the employee. Punitive damages may also be available in certain cases.
Wrongful Discharge Attorneys
If you suspect that you were wrongfully fired, terminated, or discharged from your job, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois employment law. Our attorneys have successfully handled wrongful discharge cases for our clients in Peoria and throughout the state of Illinois. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve.