As a right-to-work state, Illinois employers can generally terminate employees for any reason they like or no reason at all. However, there are exceptions. Employers can’t terminate employees for illegal, discriminatory, or other reasons that might violate public policy. If they do, this is considered a wrongful termination.
If an employee does have an employment contract that sets out the reasons for which he or she can be fired, it may also be a wrongful termination if the employer terminates him or her for any other reason. Even if there isn’t an employment contract, an employer with a clearly defined termination policy and procedure may be found to have wrongfully terminated an employee if it violates its own procedures.
Grounds to Claim Wrongful Termination
Employees in protected classes, for example, due to race, sex, age, or other personal characteristics, can’t be terminated for discriminatory reasons. Such a termination would likely violate anti-discrimination laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Illinois also has its Human Rights Act that provides additional employment protections for certain groups of people.
There are other kinds of laws to be considered, in addition to anti-discrimination laws, in terms of whether an employee has been wrongfully terminated. For example, a variety of federal and state laws guarantee employees have certain amounts of family or medical leave. If an employer terminated an employee for taking valid family or medical leave, that would also be a violation.
However, Illinois law doesn’t clearly define what terminations would constitute a violation of public policy. The state law only guides the court insofar as it requires the public policy to be clearly mandated. While the courts do decide whether public policy has been violated on a case-by-case basis, some reasons are clearly defined. For example, employees can’t be terminated for filing workers’ compensation claims or reporting unsafe work conditions or illegal activities done by others at the work place.
Filing a Claim
Illinois is a bit unusual in that it requires an employee to actually be terminated in order to file a claim. An employee who is threatened with termination or who gets demoted isn’t considered to have been wrongfully terminated.
The statute of limitations for filing a claim of being wrongfully terminated depends on whether the employee had an employment contract. An employer may also insert language into a severance contract that limits the time in which a claim can be filed.
If one does want to file a claim, he or she will have to go through an administrative agency before filing suit in court. These claims can be filed either with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The administrative body will investigate the claim and arrange mediation between employer and employee. If the issue isn’t resolved through this process, then a terminated employee can file in court.
If one is found to have been wrongfully terminated, there are potential remedies:
- Getting his or her job back with appropriate seniority and benefits
- Receiving back pay
- Compensatory damages for the stress of termination
- Punitive damages to discourage other such terminations