When to speak with a wrongful termination lawyer.
Wrongful Termination (Retaliatory Discharge)
Illinois is an “at-will” employment state. This generally means that an employee can be discharged, fired, let go, or terminated (whatever we want to call it) by their employer at any time, with or without cause.
However, this general rule is subject to some exceptions. In particular, it is illegal (and thus “wrongful termination”) for an employer to terminate an employee for the following reasons:
- For discriminatory reasons (including race, national origin, religion, age, gender, etc.);
- For filing a workers compensation claim;
- In violation of an employment contract;
- In retaliation for “whistleblowing” about unethical or fraudulent behavior;
- To prevent payment of a bonus or other money owed;
- In violation of an enumerated law (including the Civil Rights Act, Illinois Human Rights Act, etc.).
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Certain federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and Equal Pay Act, were enacted to protect employees from wrongful termination. If an employee is terminated and the termination invokes one of these federal statutes, the employee may be able to sue their former employer in federal court.
But before an employee is allowed to file a lawsuit in federal court for wrongful termination, the terminated employee must file a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or “EEOC”). The EEOC investigates the initial charge by obtaining information from both the employee and employer. After investigating, the EEOC may decide to close its file without establishing a violation of the law or conclude that there is substantial evidence of a violation and may issue a Right to Sue letter. The Right to Sue letter allows the employee to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination in federal court.
Illinois Human Rights Act
In addition to protections found under federal law, the Illinois Human Rights Act (or “IHRA”) is another avenue that employees may seek recourse through. The Illinois Department of Human Rights hears claims filed through the IHRA, and serves essentially the same functions as the EEOC.
As of January 1, 2020, the IHRA applies to any employer employing more than one person. In addition, some of the definitions of “discrimination” are arguably more expansive under the IHRA, which sometimes make it easier for an employee to prevail through the Illinois Department of Human Rights as opposed to through the EEOC.
Working with a Wrongful Termination Lawyer
If you have been discharged and you want to investigate whether you may have a cause of action against your former employer, contact a wrongful termination lawyer immediately. Quite often, I have folks who want to discuss a potential wrongful termination claim with me that they initially began by themselves. While I admire their gumption and willingness to stand up for themselves, it is typically much smoother to begin working with a wrongful termination lawyer as early in the process as possible.
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