Common Wrongful Termination Claims


In Illinois, your employer can fire you at any time and for just about any reason. Exceptions to the rule exist, however.

Although Illinois is an at-will state for employment, you cannot be fired:

  • For any discriminatory reason.
  • As retaliation for exercising your legal rights.
  • For reasons that conflict with an employment contract.

If you’ve been fired for any of these reasons, you may have a valid claim against your employer for wrongful termination. An experienced employment attorney can assist you with analyzing your claim and filing a lawsuit.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Also known as illegal discharge, wrongful termination refers to an employer firing or laying off an employee in violation of the law. Illegal circumstances for firing an employee include:

  • Violations of state and federal anti-discrimination laws
  • Sexual harassment
  • Violations of labor laws
  • Retaliation for a complaint or claim against an employer
  • Violations of employment contracts

Some types of wrongful termination have penalties laid out in the law. Others can result in payment of lost wages and other damages to a wrongfully terminated employee as the result of a lawsuit. In some cases, more than one party is found to be liable for wrongful termination.

Federal law makes it illegal to fire a worker for discriminatory reasons, including race, gender, pregnancy status, religious status, age, citizenship, any disabilities, and genetic information. In most cases, the law applies to companies with at least 15 employees. Age discrimination applies to companies with more than 20 employees.

State law regarding discrimination in Illinois is similar to federal law but adds several classes of prohibited discrimination, including:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Military status
  • Gender identity
  • Marital status
  • Unfavorable military discharge
  • Arrest record
  • Suffering domestic violence
  • Being under an order of protection
  • Being without a permanent mailing address or using a social services provider as a mailing address

Employers with more than 15 workers are required to comply with most of the prohibitions, while employers of any size are prohibited from discriminating against disabled persons.

Your Rights Under the Law

If you have a legal employment contract — which can be oral, written or even implied — you may not be classified as an at-will employee under Illinois law. An example of an implied contract could be an employee handbook that lays out certain circumstances and a specific process under which employees may be fired. If you’re fired without sufficient reason and you have an employment contract in place, you may have a valid claim for wrongful termination.

In addition, Illinois state law makes it illegal to fire workers for exercising their rights as specified in wage and hour laws — including filing claims against an employer. You also cannot be fired for filing claims related to workers’ compensation or workplace safety, and you can’t be fired for whistleblowing.

An employer in Illinois may not fire you for requesting time off from work for certain activities, including:

  • Jury duty
  • Military service
  • Family medical leave
  • Other protected forms of leave, including getting assistance with a domestic violence situation, spending time with a child or spouse who has been deployed as part of military service, and attending children’s school activities

Bringing a Claim for Wrongful Termination

Before you file a lawsuit for employment retaliation or discrimination, the law requires that you file a complaint with the correct government agency. The Illinois Department of Human Rights enforces state discrimination laws. In addition, you should file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws at the federal level.

Your employment attorney can assist you with filing complaints with the appropriate agencies and filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

How Employers Can Avoid Wrongful Termination Claims

For employers, wrongful termination claims can be expensive to defend and demoralizing for workers who remain with the company. To avoid claims that you have discriminated, violated employment laws or breached employment contracts, take the following actions:

  • Create processes for consistent, progressive disciplinary actions with employees
  • Work with your employment attorney to develop handbooks and other documentation that give you flexibility to deal with changing circumstances
  • Ensure that you and your human resources team understand and comply with all state and federal laws regarding discrimination and wrongful terminations

Work with an Experienced Employment Lawyer

If you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages, severance pay and other damages. By working with an Illinois employment lawyer, you can determine if you were fired illegally and understand your rights and options. To set up a consultation, please contact The Wood Law Office, LLC.