Client sitting with workers' comp lawyer

Filing a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit: What to Expect in Illinois

Being suddenly unemployed is a stressful time. For some people, getting fired from their jobs comes as a surprise, and they’re left with questions, especially if they didn’t feel the termination was justified. 

Today, you’ll learn answers to common questions people have after losing their job, such as, “What is wrongful termination in Illinois?” and “What are my options if I’ve been wrongfully terminated in Illinois?”

What constitutes wrongful termination in Illinois?

Illinois is an at-will employment state, which means that both workers and employers may end their employment agreement at any time, or “at-will.” 

For the most part, since employment may be terminated at the will of either party, wrongful terminations only occur when an employer violates exceptions to at-will employment, such as:

  • Violation of an employee contract
  • Discrimination based on a protected class
  • Retaliation for specific, protected actions (such as whistleblowing)
  • Terminating employment in response to protected time off work 

Your Illinois employment lawyer will help you understand how your circumstances are considered wrongful termination.

What is considered to be wrongful termination due to discrimination?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act sets forth several protected classes of workers and declares that employers cannot terminate employment because someone is in a protected class. These classes are:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability
  • Religion

Employers are also not allowed to terminate an employee in retaliation for a rightful action, such as reporting harassment or discrimination in the workplace, filing a workers’ comp claim, or contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for a wage claim.

Wrongful Termination of Employment Contracts in Illinois

Some employers provide employees with an employment contract, which offers greater job security than at-will employment. Illinois employment law honors written, oral, and implied contracts.

Oral and written contracts often state that an employee cannot be fired for a set amount of time without legitimate cause. Implied contracts, on the other hand, don’t specifically promise a certain length of employment but may lead an employee to believe that they’ll work for the employer for an extended amount of time.

An example of an implied contract would be an employee handbook that states fireable offenses and progressive discipline that can lead to termination. If an employer fires you without going through the steps, or if you were fired outright but not for an immediately fireable offense, you may have a case for a wrongful termination suit.

What is wrongful termination because of time off work?

Employees may be protected from termination if they have to take time off work due to certain circumstances, including:

  • Jury duty
  • Going to vote
  • Military deployment of up to 5 years
  • Unpaid leave protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

‍If you’ve been told not to come back to work while on protected leave, this can be considered wrongful termination.

I’ve been wrongfully terminated – what are my options?

Before filing a lawsuit in court for wrongful termination, you need to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC. 

If the EEOC determines that you have a case, they will file a lawsuit on your behalf and give you a list of qualified attorneys to represent you. However, if the EEOC doesn’t rule in your favor, you may still file suit in civil court.

Do you need an employment lawyer in Illinois?

Have you lost your job due to wrongful termination? A reputable Illinois employment lawyer can help you strengthen your case. It’s best to work with an attorney from the start, even before you file your complaint with the EEOC. 

A lawyer will help ensure that you’ve correctly drafted the complaint and have plenty of documented evidence. And if the EEOC doesn’t find in your favor, then your lawyer can pursue other legal options.

The law firm of Foote, Mielke, Chavez & O’Neil has years of experience working with Illinois employment law. Call us today for a consultation on your case.