Losing a job can feel hopeless. Learning the rules and how to take action can help manage the situation.
When Can an Employer Fire an Employee?
Generally, employers always have the right to fire employees. Some common reasons for discharging an employee are:
- Poor work performance
- Violations of policies or procedures
- Refusal or inability to perform requested tasks
- Not meeting the employer’s expectations
However, the law protects employees from being discharged for unlawful reasons.
Most Employees are Employed “At-Will”
In Illinois (and most places) employees are generally considered “at-will” employees. “At-will” employment means an employee works “at the will” of the employer and can be fired for any reason except an unlawful one.
This means that employers do not need to have a good reason to fire an employee. However the employer’s reason cannot be an illegal reason.
Generally, employment is “at-will” unless there is a contract that provides for employment for a period of time.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Employees can be fired for practically any reason.
However, a termination can be unlawful–called a wrongful termination–if the employer’s reason for firing an employee is illegal such as:
- Discrimination based on a prohibited reason (i.e., sex, race, age, sexual orientation, disability, religious beliefs, etc.)
- Retaliation for using legal rights (i.e., filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting illegal conduct to HR)
- Rejecting sexual harassment
What is Illegal Discrimination?
There are several laws to protect employees from illegal discrimination. These laws include:
- Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- The Illinois Human Rights Act
Here is a list of 50 (!) common types of unlawful employment discrimination.
The law also protects employees from being fired in retaliation for reporting illegal conduct. Laws that protect against discrimination often protect against retaliation.
Employees who report illegal conduct are sometimes called whistleblowers. Laws that protect whistleblowers include:
- The Fair Labor Standards Act
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act
- The Family and Medical Leave Act
- The National Labor Relations Act
- The Illinois Whistleblower Act
What Should You Do If You Believe You Were the Victim of a Wrongful Termination?
In some cases, employees can dispute a wrongful termination and get a settlement or damages awarded by the court. However, wrongful termination cases can take years to be decided and are often difficult to prove.
If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, you start with the U.S Department of Labor. The DOL has resources on employment laws and information for filing a claim.
Also, make sure you spend time managing the emotional impact of losing a job.
When you are ready, you may want to consult an employment lawyer.
Employees who want to pursue wrongful termination claims need to act quickly. In some cases, the deadlines to file a claim are extremely short.
Were you wrongfully terminated? Contact Jeff.