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Illinois, like most states, is an employment-at-will state. That is, either the employer or the employee may terminate their employment relationship at any time, for any reason. The exceptions to employment-at-will status in Illinois include union or personal employment contracts. Therefore, breach of contract does constitute wrongful termination. However, there are other legal restrictions that involve anti-discrimination laws and violations of public policy. Continue reading to learn why employment lawyers are sometimes involved in Illinois termination cases.
Both State and Federal laws protected certain classes against discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is mandated with stopping workplace discrimination. The EEOC’s wrongful termination laws protect against certain discrimination, such as age, national origin, pregnancy, race and gender. Therefore, any company that terminates an employee primarily based on their protected class is in violation of federal wrongful termination laws.
Consider the following scenarios. A supervisor makes numerous derogatory comments concerning an employee’s ethnic group, such as saying that people who belong to the ethnic group in question are lazy and incompetent. The supervisor later terminates an employee from the ethnic group in question for ‘poor performance.’ The terminated employee would have a possible wrongful termination case against the company. In addition to this, certain companies dislike having to accommodate pregnant employees and their need to take time off. These unscrupulous companies will often fire a pregnant employee in order to avoid the staffing troubles and associated insurance costs. In many cases, these companies will cover up the termination through citing minor performance issues, such as being occasionally late.
Illinois has a rather vague definition of public policy. However, the state of Illinois does include retaliatory termination as a violation of public policy. This includes terminations involving whistle blowing, accounting fraud, workers’ compensation claims and health and safety issues. For instance, under Illinois state law, companies cannot terminate an employee for alerting OSHA concerning serious health and safety issues at the work site. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 1978 in Kelsay v. Motorola that employers cannot terminate a worker who is attempting to cover their workers’ compensation benefits.
In addition to this, there are other applicable wrongful termination laws. The federal USERRA law of 1994 guarantees military members the right to be absent from work for up to five years. FMLA guarantees eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid every year to attend to personal and family medical needs. Finally, any employee who is terminated for refusing to engage in criminal activities is protected by state and federal law.
To sum up, most terminations are based on the standard employment-at-will clause. However, there are certain situations that may be considered wrongful termination. Anyone who has experienced a wrongful termination should consult with a knowledgeable employment lawyer. They will be able to apply that knowledge of the court system and legal regulations in order to protect your rights.