What is Considered Wrongful Termination in Illinois?

Wrongful Termination

Illinois is an employment-at-will state, which means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, at any time. However, it is not quite that simple. There are plenty of situations in which it is not legal for an employer to fire an employee. For example, it is against the law to fire an employee because they get pregnant or because they gave testimony in a harassment lawsuit that another employee filed against the employer. Whether an employer knows they broke the law or they were ignorant of their employee’s rights, they can be held accountable for damages. Below are examples of various forms of wrongful termination.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. These traits are called protected classes. Additional laws have been created since 1964 that also protect employees and applicants based on their age (if they are over 40), pregnancy status, disability, and marital status. As such, it is against the law to make any negative employment decision or action based on any of these real or perceived traits.

However, discrimination is rampant in modern workplaces, despite these laws. Firing someone based on any of these traits is considered wrongful termination, and an employee who is the victim of such a wrongful termination has the ability to file a wrongful termination claim against their employer, seeking damages.

Employer Retaliation

Employees have certain rights that all employers must take into account. One of these rights is the right to speak out against employer wrongdoing. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who has filed, or is in the process of filing, a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government.

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), protests against an employer, or files a lawsuit against their employer for discrimination, harassment, or any other wrongful act. There are a number of ways employers engage in retaliation.

Demoting, refusing to promote an employee, and giving an employee undesirable tasks are just a few examples. However, the most common way an employer will illegally retaliate is by firing the employee.

Breach of Contract

If the employee and employer have a contract in place, and this contract is breached due to the employee’s firing, then it may be considered wrongful termination. However, if an employee has a contract with an end date for their services, that person is likely an independent contractor instead of an at-will employee.

Taking Leave Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables employees to take time off from work after the birth of a child, or in certain similar scenarios where the employee has to care for a family member, without fear of being fired or demoted. Employers must reinstate the employee in their former position, at the same level of pay, after taking time off under the FMLA. Employees who are eligible for FMLA leave include those who work for:

  • Companies with 50 or more employees
  • Public agencies
  • Public elementary schools
  • Private elementary schools
  • Public secondary schools
  • Private elementary schools

To be eligible, the employee must also have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months.

The FMLA provides 12 workweeks of unpaid time off for the following:

  • The birth of a child (within one year of the birth)
  • The placement of an adopted child or foster care child (within one year of placement)
  • To care for a spouse, spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • The employee themselves has a serious health condition that makes it impossible to perform the essential functions of their job
  • The employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty” and that person has a qualifying exigency because of their military service

The FMLA provides 26 workweeks within a 12-month period for the care of an employee’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin if they are a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness.

Taking Leave for Other Reasons

In Illinois, it is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee for taking leave for the following reasons:

  • Using accrued vacation days
  • Jury duty
  • Voting

Filing for Workers’ Compensation, Refusing to Perform Illegal Act, and Other Violations of Public Policy

Workers’ compensation is reserved for any employee who gets hurt on the job or becomes sick or injured because of their occupation. Employees have the right to file a workers’ comp claim without being terminated. It is considered wrongful termination if an employer fires an employee for filing a claim, or for saying that they plan on filing a claim.

Another example of an act that goes against public policy is firing an employee who refuses a sexual advance by their manager or boss. Similarly, employers who ask, or demand, an employee to perform illegal acts are not lawfully permitted to fire the employee if he or she refuses to go along.

Whether the act is against state or federal law, is considered a felony/misdemeanor or a violation of the Environmental Protection Agency (for example), an employee has the right to refuse without fear of being wrongfully terminated.

Call a Chicago Wrongful Termination Lawyer Today

Were you fired because you spoke out against your employer for harassing you or another co-worker? Did your employer retaliate against you when you refused to go along with their sexual advances or inappropriate behavior?

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, an attorney may be able to help you receive compensation for your lost pay and benefits, emotional distress, and punitive damages. We urge you to take action today by calling the Chicago wrongful termination lawyers at North Suburban Legal Services, LLC. Call 312-909-6089 to schedule a free consultation with a Chicago wrongful discrimination attorney today.




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