Retaliatory Discharge

Employers are not above the law. They may engage in illegal or immoral activities, such as safety violations, wage theft, discrimination, sexual harassment, and other things that employees may find upsetting. Some employees may exercise their legal rights and file complaints against their employers.

Other employees may refrain from engaging in such actions because they fear retaliation from their employer. They may have heard stories about employers cutting pay and hours, harassing employees, and even firing employees who engage in certain legal activities.

After all, workers in Illinois are hired under the conditions of “at-will” employment. This means that their job can end at any time. Their employer does not have to keep them employed for a certain amount of time. Businesses and organizations are legally allowed to fire employees at any time, with or without cause.

The phrase “without cause,” though, is kind of confusing, because there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, the reason for the termination must be legal. This means that there cannot be discrimination or retaliation involved.

When retaliation in employment termination is involved, this is called retaliatory discharge. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits this type of firing. It is illegal regardless of the person’s employment status. Employees cannot be fired engaging in protected activity.

What is Protected Activity?

The EEOC prohibits the punishment of job applicants or employees who assert their rights. These EEO rights are called “protected activity,” which can take many forms. Some examples include:

  • Filing an EEO charge or lawsuit
  • Answering questions during an employer investigation
  • Discussing employment discrimination with a supervisor or manager
  • Asking co-workers or managers about salary information
  • Refusing to engage in immoral or illegal activity
  • Refusing to perform sexual favors for an employer
  • Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability
  • Protecting co-workers from illegal or discriminatory behavior by employers

However, employees must keep in mind that engaging in EEO activity will not automatically shield them from all forms of discipline or discharge. Employees can still be disciplined or terminated for reasons not related to retaliation or discrimination.

Retaliation Without Termination

Termination is not the only consequence that an employee can face for retaliation. Instead of terminating the employee right away, some employers will punish the employee by making the work environment much more unpleasant.

As a form of retaliation, an employer may give an employee a bad performance review, even though the employee didn’t do anything wrong. The employer may also exclude the employee from team events and social gatherings as a form of retaliation.

Retaliation is not limited to employees. If the worker is an independent contractor, they may also be retaliated against by being given less work or fewer hours.

Some other forms of retaliation include:

  • Reprimanding the employee for no apparent reason
  • Transferring the employee to a less desirable position
  • Changing the employee’s work schedule
  • Reducing the employee’s pay
  • Verbally or physically abusing the employee
  • Threaten to make police reports
  • Spreading false rumors about the employee
  • Harassing the employee’s family

There are many forms of retaliation that an employer can take against an employee. If an employee thinks they are facing retaliation from their employer, they should start collecting evidence to help prove their case.

Proving Retaliatory Discharge

Speaking of proving your case, proving retaliatory discharge can be very difficult. In Illinois, you need to be able to prove the following three elements in order to successfully claim retaliatory discharge:

  • The employee engaged in activities that are considered protected under the law, or the employee opposed the employer’s illegal conduct.
  • The employee was terminated or punished by their employer.
  • There is a clear link between the protected activity and the subsequent punishment or termination.

Proving these three elements will require a lot of evidence. The employee will need to show a connection between the termination or punishment and their participation in a protected activity.

There are two primary sources of evidence that are required:

  • Direct evidence. Direct evidence must be either in verbal or written form. There must be a statement that shows the link between the protected activity and the subsequent punishment or firing. Direct evidence may include emails, text messages, or letters. It can also include verbal communication, such as conversations, voicemails, and witnesses.
  • Indirect evidence. Also known as circumstantial evidence, indirect evidence refers to proof that implies there was a connection between the protected activity and the subsequent punishment or firing. For instance, indirect evidence can show patterns of behavior. This may include evidence that the employer always fires employees who file complaints about the company. This can serve as proof of retaliatory discharge.

Proving retaliatory discharge on your own is no easy task. The employer tends to have the overwhelming advantage in these cases. That’s because they can simply say they terminated the worker for some other reason. This is why hiring a lawyer may be in your best interest.

For best results, contact an Illinois employment lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer will be able to explain the laws that pertain to your case as well as your legal rights. They can also assess your situation and determine whether or not you have a valid claim.

Your lawyer can perform many other duties as well, such as filing a case, helping you gather evidence, and representing you in court. If your employer decides they want to settle the case, your lawyer also can handle settlement negotiations.

Contact Our Retaliatory Discharge Attorneys

As an employee, you should not be worried about facing retaliation for engaging in legal activities against your employer or filing a complaint against them. If you are treated poorly as a result, you have legal options that can protect you and your job. Count on North Suburban Legal Service, LLC to help you with your employment issues, including retaliation and wrongful termination.

Our Chicago retaliatory discharge attorneys can help you seek justice against an employer who is behaving badly. We can help you gather the evidence you need. Call our office today at (312) 313-4038 to schedule a consultation.




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