Illinois law creates something called an “at-will” employment relationship between an employee and an employer. Ordinarily, this means that an employer may fire an employee for any reason or even no reason at all. But, Illinois law does create an exception in cases of retaliatory discharge.
A retaliatory discharge occurs when an employer fires an employee for taking an action that is protected by either a statute or general public policy. One of the most common actions that gives rise to a retaliatory discharge claim is an employer's firing of an employee after “whistleblowing.” Whistleblowing means that an employee reported suspected illegal conduct by the employer to the government, and it is protected by 740 ILCS 174.
Illinois Whistleblower Protection
Illinois law provides statutory protection to whistleblowers, so that their employers cannot fire them in retaliation for their reporting. However, the law has a limited set of actions that qualify as whistleblowing for the purposes of legal protection. Employers may not fire their employees for reporting their illegal conduct to a government or law enforcement agency, testifying against them in court, or refusing to perform an illegal act. Furthermore, the information that the employee provides does not actually have to expose any illegal conduct on the part of the employer. Instead, the employee merely needs a reasonable belief that the information involves an illegal act.
The law also contains a few other miscellaneous provisions. It prohibits employers from putting in place policies that that would prevent an employee from disclosing information that they believed involved an illegal act on the part of the employer. Additionally, the law includes a catch-all provision, designed to provide broader protection to whistleblowers. It forbids employers from retaliating against employees for attempting to expose any “public corruption or wrongdoing.”
In addition to forbidding retaliatory discharge, the law also recognizes other types of actions as retaliation. Generally speaking, the law forbids employers to retaliate with “materially adverse employment actions.” While termination is certainly the most common, other things like demotions, pay cuts, transfers and shift changes may qualify under certain circumstances.
In the event that the employee proves that they suffered retaliation, the law provides them with a variety of remedies, including:
- • Reinstatement;
- • Back pay with interest;
- • and Compensation for damages from the violation.
If you believe that you suffered a retaliatory discharge for whistleblowing or some other protected act, contact a Chicago employment lawyer today. Call 847-934-6000 to speak to a member of our team. We serve many Northwest Suburban areas including Barrington, Palatine, Schaumburg, and other surrounding communities.
About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.