What is Wrongful Termination?

Web Admin - Friday, April 08, 2016

wrongful termination, Illinois Employment Law AttorneysLoosing a job can be devastating to both you and your family. However, because Illinois is an at-will employment state, employers are generally allowed to terminate employees for whatever reasons they so choose. Still, this is not to say that all bases for termination are legal. 

When you are concerned that your employment termination was a wrongful termination, or you believe that your termination was in some way illegal, then you should discuss your case with an experienced employment law attorney to learn more about your rights.

Wrongful Termination 

There are legal protections in place to protect workers from wrongful termination. “Wrongful termination” does not necessarily mean that you feel your termination is unfair or unjustified. Rather, “wrongful termination” implies that the termination violates the law in some way. An employer may not terminate an employee for the following reasons:

- If the termination would violate an employment contract;

- If the termination was made on a discriminatory basis;

- If the termination is retaliatory for the employee exercising his or her rights. For instance, the following are impermissible grounds upon which to terminate an employee: 

- Filing a worker’s compensation claim;

- Filing a workplace safety complaint; 

- Filing a sexual harassment action; and

- Reporting wrongdoing in the company, i.e., whistle-blowing. 

- For taking legally protected time off from work for things such as jury duty, military leave, or time needed to care for oneself or his or her family members under the Family Medical Leave Act. 

Each of the above identified grounds for a termination would be a “wrongful termination” since each one violates the law in some way. 

Employment Contracts

Employees who have an employment contract are not considered to be “at will” employees. Rather, employment contracts impose a legal obligation between the employer and the employee—the employee will remain employed until the termination of the contract. Early termination of the employee would be an early termination of the contract, which is a violation of the terms of the contract. 

Discriminatory Termination 

Termination of an employee on the basis of discrimination is a violation of state and federal employment discrimination laws. There are certain legally protected statuses upon which an employee cannot be discriminated. These include the employee’s age, sex, race, religion, disability, national origin, pregnancy, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, unfavorable military discharge, arrest record, and lack of a permanent mailing address.

Retaliatory Termination

Employees have certain protected rights in Illinois under the Illinois Whistleblower Act and Illinois case law. Under these laws workers are allowed to exercise their rights without having to fear being terminated from their job. Employees can report instances of illegal conduct to the appropriate government authorities, and can also refuse to participate in company activities that the worker believes to be illegal. 

Employment law issues, such as wrongful termination, can be confusing. However, a skilled attorney can help. Please contact one of our experienced Illinois employment law attorneys today. Our Illinois law firm serves the communities of Schaumburg, Des Plaines, Rolling Meadows, Barrington, Palatine, Crystal Lake, Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights, Inverness, and Deer Park. Please call 847-934-6000 to speak to a member of our team.

    Ken Apicella

    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.





New Law Mandates Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Women

Web Admin - Thursday, December 11, 2014

pregnant woman wrongful termination, employee rights lawyerDiscrimination against pregnant women in the workforce has long been a concern, and now the Illinois legislature has passed a new law designed to help give women greater protection. The new law modifies the Illinois Human Rights Act, effective starting next year, to more clearly protect pregnant women's rights. The new rights include the right to reasonable accommodation of their pregnancy by their employers, protection from employment discrimination, and protection from forced leave. The law also grants employers some protection from unreasonable demands, such as the ability to refuse accommodations if such accommodations would place an undue hardship on the business.

New Rights for Pregnant Women

The law includes four new rights for “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to childbirth.” The most legally complex of these rights is the right to a reasonable accommodation of their pregnancy. These accommodations are changes to the employee’s duties or their workspace that allow the employee to perform the “essential duties” of the position. The law provides some examples of these reasonable accommodations, which may include things like more frequent bathroom breaks, private space for breastfeeding, or a modified work schedule.

The law also provides another set of more concrete rights to pregnant women. For instance, employers may not force accommodations onto a pregnant woman if she does not want them, a provision that is likely designed to protect women from being forced to modify or reduce their work schedules. Similarly, the law forbids an employer from forcing a pregnant woman to take maternity leave if she chooses not to.

Employer's Rights

The law also includes a new set of rights for employers that relate to the issue of reasonable accommodation. The first right is that employers can claim that the accommodation the woman is asking for would place an undue hardship on the company. The law defines undue hardship as “an action that is prohibitively expensive or disruptive.” It also provides four factors for judges to consider when determining whether something is an undue hardship:

  1. 1. The nature and cost of the accommodations;
  2. 2. The financial resources of the facility providing the accommodation and the accommodation's impact on the company's operations;
  3. 3. The resources and size of the employer; and
  4. 4. The type of work the employer does.

This provides a highly individualized test that depends greatly on both the specific employer and the accommodation requested. The law also provides the employer with the right to request medical documentation supporting the need for the accommodation.

If you believe that your rights under this new act are being violated or if you are an employer concerned about your obligations under the new law, contact a Crystal Lake employment law attorney today. Our firm helps many northwest suburban employees and businesses in towns like Rolling Meadows, Crystal Lake, Arlington Heights, Inverness, Deer Park, Palatine, and Barrington.

Ken ApicellaAbout 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.

Retaliatory Discharge in Illinois: The Basics

Web Admin - Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Under the “at will” employment doctrine, employers are typically able to fire an employee for virtually any reason. There are some exceptions, however, including statutory rules which prevent employment discrimination against certain protected classes. Another exception is known as a “retaliatory discharge.”

What It Is

Essentially, the law, as outlined by the Illinois Supreme Court, allows an employee to recover damages if they show that they were fired from a job for engaging in legally protected conduct and that their termination violated public policy interests. A 1978 Supreme Court case, Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc. was the first in the state to define this tort.

Historically, there are two general types of situations where employees have won retaliatory discharge cases. The first is where an employee was fired for making a worker’s compensation claim.  To prevail in these situations, the burden is on the employee to affirmatively show that the termination was spurred by their seeking worker’s compensation.

In addition, employers can be liable for a retaliatory discharge when they fire an employee for reporting on improper conduct or refusing to participate in that conduct. For example, in one Illinois case, Palmateer v. International Harvester, an employee was fired after going to the police to share information about a fellow employee’s illegal actions. In another case decided by an Illinois appellate court, an employee won a claim after being fired for refusing to falsify pension plans--which itself violated federal law.

Retaliatory Discharge Damages

To pursue one of these cases, an employee must file a civil lawsuit specifically alleging that they were terminated in violation of these rules. But what sort of damages can the employee recover if they win?

Under Illinois case law, employees who win a retaliatory discharge case are generally able to recover lost wages from the date that the termination occurred until they find a new job. However, that does not mean that the employee can simply do nothing and collect a paycheck. Instead, courts have ruled that the employee has a duty to mitigate their damages by taking reasonable steps to find permanent work.

In addition, depending on the specifics of the case, a plaintiff may also seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the conduct of the employer (instead of merely compensating the harmed party). These damages are only a possibility when the defendant’s conduct is particularly egregious. 

Legal Help

If you have questions about a potential retaliatory discharge case, contact a Palatine employment lawyer today. Call 847-934-6000 to speak to a member of our team. We serve many Northwest Suburban areas including Rolling Meadows, Buffalo Grove, Barrington, and other nearby communities.

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