Illinois, like most states, is considered an at-will state, but this does not prevent litigation due to wrongful termination. Though many assume that Illinois employers may terminate individuals for any reason, certain circumstances are considered unlawful.
The Meaning of At-Will Employment
The doctrine of at-will employment implies that an employee can be terminated at any time with or without reason or warning. Basically, an employee may be terminated or choose to leave without stating a specific cause. There are some situations, however when termination is considered illegal in Illinois. Almost all states are currently at-will employers, however, the specifics of state employment law may vary. Employers are required to follow both State and Federal laws when employing individuals.
Exceptions To At-Will Employment
Though employers in at-will states have quite a bit of leeway when it comes to hiring and firing employees, not all terminations are considered legal under Illinois law. Some employment relationships, for example, are contractual and the requirements of a contract govern when and how an employee can be let go. If an employer publishes an employment manual that lays out the rules and guidelines for termination, this may also be considered a contract. If proper protocol is not followed when an employee is terminated, it may be considered a breach of contract.
In all employment situations, there are State and Federal laws that prevent employees from being discriminated against due to factors like sex, race, age, religion or disability. If an employee is terminated for this reason, it may be viewed as a wrongful termination. Likewise, if an employee is terminated in retaliation for taking time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, as the result of an on-the-job injury or as a member of an armed forces reserve unit may not be considered a legal act.
Whistleblowers are also protected from termination due to retaliation. If an employee makes a report to a regulatory entity due to violations of safety, privacy or civil rights laws, for instance, employers may not legally terminate the employee as a punishment for their actions.
When an employee has been wrongfully terminated, they may be able to file a lawsuit, under Illinois law. Wrongful termination lawyers work with employees to determine if they have a valid case and to make a claim against employers that have not followed employment laws.