Wrongful termination, also known as wrongful discharge or unlawful termination, generally refers to a situation wherein an employee is fired by their employer for reasons that are either illegal or unauthorized.
Some examples that may constitute wrongful termination include:
- If the reason as to why the employer fires their employee goes against company and/or public policy standards;
- When the manner in which the employer terminates their employees breaches the terms of an employment contract; and/or
- If an employer terminates an employee for a reason that would violate federal, state, or local employment laws.
It should be noted that many employees are hired as “at-will” employees, meaning that they may be terminated for any reason and at any time, so long as it is legal. As such, this can make it extremely difficult to prove that an employee was wrongfully terminated if an employer can provide another reason for why their termination may have been justified.
Therefore, if you believe you were wrongfully terminated from a position, you should strongly consider consulting an employment law attorney in your area for further assistance. A lawyer will be able to evaluate your claim and can recommend the best way to handle your situation.
How is Wrongful Termination Defined in Illinois?
Illinois has a unique way of defining wrongful termination. Such a lawsuit may only be brought if a worker can prove they were actually fired and that the firing was related to a violation of one of the following legal concepts:
- Discrimination: Similar to federal law claims, an employee who is fired for their race, sex, gender identity, national origin, or for any other reason that involves a protected class of persons will be grounds for wrongful termination in Illinois.
- Retaliation: As is the case in many other states, a worker cannot be fired for taking certain protected actions, such as whistleblowing, protesting against an employer in the employee’s free time, or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
- Breach of contract: If an employee’s termination is in breach of the terms of their employment contract, then this may give rise to a wrongful termination lawsuit. Also, it should be noted that employees who have a contract that contains an end date for their services is most likely an independent contractor, not an at-will employee.
- Leave: A worker cannot be fired for attending jury duty, voting, taking accrued vacation days, or for using time that is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
- Public policy: If a worker is terminated for reasons that go against public policy, then this could lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit. Such claims are often filed in conjunction with a claim for retaliatory discharge. More examples of public policy violations will be discussed in greater detail in a later section below.
Is Illinois an At Will State?
Like the majority of states, Illinois is considered an “at-will” state. According to Illinois at will employment laws, this means that an employee may be fired by their employer for any reason, without any warning, so long as the reason for their termination is justified. However, if an employee is terminated for an illegal or unlawful reason, then they may be able to sue their employer for wrongful termination.
An employee can sue an employer in Illinois for wrongful termination when their employer violates one of the exceptions to the state’s “at will” standards, such as:
- When an employer’s motivation to terminate an employee is based on a discriminatory reason;
- If the employer violates the terms of a worker’s employment agreement during the termination process;
- When an employee is terminated for taking time off of work that is protected under various state and federal laws (e.g., the FMLA); and/or
- If the firing is in retaliation to a certain protected action that the employee took against an employer’s illegal conduct (i.e., whistleblowing).
It should be noted that employees in Illinois may only bring a lawful termination lawsuit after they have filed a complaint with their local EEOC office and only if they have proof that they were in fact terminated from their job.
What are Public Policy Violations?
As discussed above, public policy violations are one of the only exceptions to the “at-will” laws in Illinois state. However, the definition of what exactly constitutes a public policy violation in Illinois varies by case.
There is one constant theme that seems to fit all successful Illinois cases though and that is retaliatory discharge. Again, retaliatory discharge simply refers to employee conduct that is protected under the law and will not amount to a fireable offense, such as:
- Protesting against an employer in a worker’s free time;
- Refusing to do a sexual favor for an employer;
- Taking off of work to participate in an election (i.e., vote);
- Leaving work to serve mandatory jury duty; and/or
- Filing for workers’ compensation.
Basically, firing an employee for any reason that is considered a violation of state public policy will be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. The reason being is because termination in violation of a public policy is a violation of the law, which again, is one of the only exceptions to at-will employment standards in the state of Illinois.
What Available Remedies are There for My Wrongful Termination?
In general, the most common type of remedy awarded in wrongful termination cases is usually some form of monetary damages. This remedy is no different when it comes to wrongful termination cases filed in an Illinois court.
The amount of damages that a worker may be able to recover from their employer will largely depend on the facts of each individual case, as well as the laws of a particular jurisdiction. Accordingly, monetary damages awards tend to vary by claim.
Some other specific remedies that may be available to a worker who prevails on a claim for wrongful termination include:
- Lost wages;
- Back payments;
- Medical costs;
- Expenses associated with finding new work;
- Lost benefits (note that recovering this remedy will likely require hiring an expert witness to evaluate the monetary value of the loss);
- Attorneys’ fees and/or court costs;
- Punitive damages;
- Pain and suffering or emotional distress; and/or
- Various other expenses related to the claim.
It is important to note that damages for attorneys’ fees, pain and suffering, and punitive damages are rarely ever awarded in such cases.
Additionally, there are some other remedies that a court may decide to award that are not strictly based on monetary damages. These include the following:
- Reinstating the worker back to the job they had before they were terminated or a similar position;
- Issuing an injunction to prevent the employer from behaving in the same manner that led to the lawsuit; and/or
- Ordering that the employer’s hiring and firing policies be re-drafted in compliance with the applicable laws.
Is Wrongful Termination Hard to Prove?
As previously mentioned, wrongful termination cases tend to be hard to prove. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that most employees are “at-will” employees. Also, it can be difficult to gather strong enough evidence to support an employee’s claim.
For instance, many cases hinge on things said between a worker and their employer in behind closed door meetings. Thus, it is generally not recommended that a worker attempt to represent themselves in such a case.
Instead, an Illinois employee who believes they were wrongfully terminated should contact a wrongful termination lawyer in Chicago for help. A wrongful termination lawyer in Chicago will already be familiar with the laws and procedural requirements for employment cases in Illinois state, as well as can assist a worker in navigating the Illinois court system.
Additionally, a wrongful termination lawyer will know what types of evidence to collect to support the employee’s claim and can even help them gather most of it. For example, unlike other states, Illinois requires proof of an actual firing. In other words, employer conduct like demoting or threatening to terminate a worker will not be sufficient to support a claim in the state of Illinois.
Thus, an Illinois employee can benefit from having a wrongful termination lawyer in Chicago on their legal team since they will already be aware of important legal factors like the one in the above example.
Should I Hire an Illinois Attorney to Help with My Wrongful Termination Issues?
Claims for wrongful termination often touch upon a wide variety of legal issues within a single case, meaning they tend to require extensive knowledge of various state and federal laws. Such claims also involve intricate procedures, which can sometimes be confusing without the help of a legal expert. Thus, if you need to file a claim for wrongful termination, then it may be in your best interest to hire an Illinois wrongful termination lawyer for further assistance with your matter.
An experienced employment law attorney can evaluate your claim to see if you have a case. Your lawyer can also discuss the potential consequences of filing a lawsuit, as well as the remedies you may be able to recover. Additionally, your lawyer can provide legal advice about the relevant laws and procedural requirements in Illinois state.
Finally, your lawyer can also represent you during Illinois court proceedings, or alternatively, at talks for negotiating a favorable settlement.