Chicago Wrongful Termination Lawyer
Helping clients throughout Illinois get back to work
Illinois is an at-will state, which means workers can be fired for almost any reason. It is also a leader in civil rights and worker protections, which means the reasons for termination cannot be for an unlawful purpose. Gainsberg Law is dedicated to protecting the rights of workers throughout Illinois. If you were wrongfully terminated from your position, we are here to help to fight back. Contact us in Chicago to learn more about your options.
What is “wrongful” termination?
Not all unjust firings are considered wrongful termination. For example, if you are accused of stealing – even if you did not do it – you do not technically have a wrongful termination claim in Illinois (though that doesn’t mean you don’t have any claim at all). The same is true if your boss just doesn’t like you.
There are no federal laws regarding wrongful discharge – only state laws. In Illinois, wrongful termination claims are related only to the violation of laws:
- Discrimination. If you are fired for being a member of a protected class – such as race, gender identity, age, sex, and so forth – either under state or federal law, you can make a wrongful termination claim.
- Retaliation. You cannot be fired for filing for workers’ compensation, or for protesting or assembling on your own free time, because you have rights which guarantee these things. You cannot be fired for refusing the sexual advances of your supervisor, employer, or coworker.
- Public policy violation. You cannot be fired for any act that would violate public policy regulations, such as for blowing the whistle on an employer, or filing an EEOC claim. (Often, claims of public policy violations are made in conjunction with retaliation claims.)
- Breach of contract. Your employment contract binds you and your employer; in some cases, by virtue of having a contract, you may no longer be considered an at-will employee. As such, if you are fired for a reason unrelated to what is outlined in your contract, you may be able to file a wrongful termination claim.
- Taking time off. You cannot be fired for taking vacation days or your PTO, for using time under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or for going to jury duty. You cannot be fired for not working through your lunch hour. Depending on the circumstances, you may not be fired for refusing to work mandatory overtime.
If you are unsure if you were wrongfully discharged, an experienced Chicago employment lawyer from Gainsberg Law can review your claim and let you know.
What is retaliatory discharge?
“Retaliation” can take include a number of things, but “retaliatory discharge” is a specific type of wrongful termination. In short, you cannot be asked to do something illegal for your employer, nor be fired if you refuse to do it.
For example, say your employer is perpetrating fraud against the government by misusing funds allocated for security systems. If he or she asks you to “fudge” the paperwork and you refuse, you cannot be fired for refusing. Generally speaking, retaliatory discharge claims of this kind are linked to public policy violations, but that is not always the case.
Illinois common law regarding retaliatory discharge
Under Illinois common law, you can also file a retaliatory discharge claim if you have been fired after refusing to do something unsafe, or for filing a safety violation complaint.
Your rights as a worker under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970
Per OSHA’s “General Duty Clause,” 29 U.S. Code § 654:
(a) Each employer—
(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this chapter.
(b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this chapter which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.
Workers have a right to safe working conditions, information about potential hazards, and access to safety records. They also have the right to request an OSHA inspection if they believe their workplace is unsafe, and to refuse to work in unsafe conditions:
[O]ccasions might arise when an employee is confronted with a choice between not performing assigned tasks or subjecting himself to serious injury or death arising from a hazardous condition at the workplace. If the employee, with no reasonable alternative, refuses in good faith to expose himself to the dangerous condition, he would be protected against subsequent discrimination. The condition causing the employee's apprehension of death or injury must be of such a nature that a reasonable person, under the circumstances then confronting the employee, would conclude that there is a real danger of death or serious injury and that there is insufficient time, due to the urgency of the situation, to eliminate the danger through resort to regular statutory enforcement channels. In addition, in such circumstances, the employee, where possible, must also have sought from his employer, and been unable to obtain, a correction of the dangerous condition.
These are your federal rights, and you are protected when you exercise them. Contact us if you have questions.
How can I prove I was wrongfully terminated in Chicago?
It is important to gather as much documentation as you can to help bolster your claim. This can include getting copies of emails, interoffice memos, complaints made to Human Resources, written notices of changes to hours and/or salary, copies of any proposed contractual amendments, and so forth. You should also seek copies of your personnel file, as well as copies of any performance reviews you have. This should include any complaints or “red flags” that are included in your file – especially if you were unaware of them.
You may also want to create a timeline of events that led to your termination. Note if any other employees were terminated before you, or any discussions you heard, or were privy to, regarding downsizing, layoffs, reductions-in-force, etc.
Make a note of how you were informed. Were you given written notice? Were you fired on the spot? Were your hours cut, or your job duties changed, in the days and weeks before your termination? If so, were they reassigned to someone else?
All of this information can help your lawyer build a framework that points to your wrongful termination.
What can I do if I believe I was wrongfully discharged?
In order to move forward with a wrongful termination claim in Illinois, you need to file an official complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you believe you were a victim of discrimination, you will also need to contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
The EEOC will review your claim and decide whether or not to pursue a lawsuit. If the agency decides not to move forward, then you can file a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination with the help of your attorney.
What if I am a federal worker?
Federal workers may still file a claim through the EEOC, but they could also find themselves dealing with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSB). The MSB, among other things, “investigates allegations of prohibited personnel practices [and] prosecutes violators of civil service rules.” There will be a hearing with discovery, and the MSB will render a decision. If you are unhappy with the decision, you can file a claim in federal district court.
Can I be fired for joining a union?
No, you cannot. The National Labor Relations Act protects your rights as a worker “to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” It also protects your right not to join a labor union, if you so choose.
If your employer threatens you, attempts to bribe you, threatens adverse consequences – in shirt, if he or she does anything to interfere with workers’ rights to unionize – that employer can be held accountable. You can read the full list of prohibited actions here.
How much is my wrongful termination claim worth?
As with any claim, it depends on the case. Typically, you can seek damages for:
- Lost wages and back pay
- Costs associated with finding a new job
- Medical bills (which may be higher than usual if you lose your health insurance)
- Attorneys’ fees and associated costs
- Punitive damages (in cases involving egregious behavior)
If you were fired for blowing the whistle, you may be entitled to a percentage of the total amount recovered – typically between 15% and 30% – by the federal government.
Chicago employment attorney handling wrongful termination claims
If you were wrongfully discharged from your job, you want an attorney on your side. Gainsberg Law has protected workers in and around Chicagoland for decades. To schedule a consultation with an experienced employment lawyers, please call 312-600-9585 or fill out our contact form.