Your former employee filed a wrongful termination claim against you last month, claiming that you retaliated against them for reporting an OSHA violation. You have evidence to prove the termination was based on merit, and that the employee had a record of poor performance and attendance, but you actually thanked them for pointing out the violation because it did present a safety risk to all employees.
Now you are facing an Illinois civil suit, possible penalties from the state, and an OSHA investigation. How can you prevent this from occurring in the future and help current employees understand whistleblower rights while mitigating damage?
The Illinois Whistleblower Protection Act safeguards the rights of employees in the workplace, including whistleblowers. Illinois statute indicates that an employer may not create or enforce a policy, regulation, code of conduct, or guideline that would infringe upon a worker’s rights. Employers are also barred from inhibiting the employee from providing information to a government agency regarding a potential violation of an ordinance or statute.
Under 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. §174. 5 employers are encouraged to foster an environment of transparency that is free from hostility or retaliation and offers employees a safe space to discuss issues they believe require redress. Employers are barred from discussing retaliation with an employee or threatening other punitive measures. Employees have the right to refuse to engage in a workplace activity they believe is a violation of common law, statute, or ordinance without fear of losing their job.
Many workers are understandably concerned about reporting a potential workplace violation. While retaliation for reporting remains illegal, the fear of employee retaliation still exists. How do you balance your ethics with the fear of losing your job? If you know underreporting or failure to report could cause harm to others you have an obligation to blow the whistle. It takes courage and tenacity to stand up for what is right but you cannot be terminated for being a whistleblower.
So what happens if you are fired or demoted for filing a report, even if it was done anonymously? Can you file a suit for wrongful termination or are there other options?
If an employer violates the statute by acting in retaliation to a whistleblower, they may be criminally charged in addition to civil penalties. The current, or former employee has the right to file a civil suit against the employer to obtain economic damages or an injunction. An injunction would provide a non-monetary remedy to the employee, such as placing the employee in the same position, tier, or status he or she enjoyed prior to retaliation. The employee is also entitled to back pay, lost wages if laid off due to retaliation, and the cost of attorney’s fees to litigate the action. Sometimes an action can be handled through meditation.
The Chicago business law attorneys at North Suburban Legal Services specialize in offering mediation services to facilitate a resolution between employers and employees. We also offer additional guidance in the field of employment law and can help de-escalate a situation or simple misunderstanding before real damage is done.
Contact a Chicago business lawyer at North Suburban Legal Services, LLC. Our dedicated team possesses decades of experience representing a host of clients in all employment and business law matters. We understand what is at stake and we are dedicated to achieving results for our clients. Whether you need help with a payroll dilemma or are concerned about potential employment law violations, we can offer guidance. We serve clients throughout Chicago and Cook County. Contact our lawyers today to schedule a consultation at (312) 909-6089.