Illinois is an at-will employment State, meaning that an employment relationship of unspecified duration is presumed terminable at will by either party. There are some exceptions to this general at-will employment standard. Your employer cannot fire you for a reason that is considered to violate public policy. Such reasons include:
- Your religion
- Your race
- Your sex
- Your age
- You are receiving worker’s compensation benefits
- You filed a sexual harassment case
- You reported illegal activity by your employer to others
- You complained about unsafe work conditions
- Sexual orientation
- Because you got hurt on the job
- Because you are pregnant
Every case is different but initially you must file a claim with the Illinois EEOC and the Department of Human Rights. Once those departments both give the go ahead, an investigation will take place and a lawsuit filed with the appropriate court. Then, the lawsuit will move forward in the normal course of any lawsuit.
Before you meet with an attorney, write down the events and everything that took place. Did you sign an employment contract? Do you have a copy? What was the reason given for your termination? Why do you think there is another reason? Do you have any emails, notes, voicemails, eyewitnesses?
The presumption of employment terminable at will may also be overcome by the existence of an employment contract, or, in certain cases, by the language included within an employee handbook. In Duldulao v St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center, 115 Ill.2d at 487, 505 N.E. 2d 314, 106 Ill Dec. 8 (1987) an employee brought suit against her employer/hospital when she was discharged by the hospital for what the hospital deemed “unsatisfactory performance.” She based her action upon an implied contract found in her employee handbook. Her handbook required: “three warning notices within a twelve-month period” before an employee may be dismissed and the introduction to the handbook contained a statement that the policies in the handbook “were designed to clarify your rights and duties as employees.” Duldulao, 115 ill 2d 491.
The Duldulao matter was heard by the Illinois Supreme Court which held that employee handbooks could constitute a contract if the traditional requirements for contract formation are present. The Duldulao court found that the concept of employment at-will was a presumption that could be overcome by demonstrating that the employer and employee contracted otherwise. In Duldulao, the Illinois Supreme Court set forth three factors to determine if contract requirements are present in an employee handbook:
- The language of the policy statement must contain a promise clear enough that an employee would reasonably believe that an offer has been made.
- The statement must be disseminated to the employee in such a manner that the employee is aware of its contents and reasonably believes it to be an offer.
- The employee must accept the offer by commencing or continuing to work after learning of the policy statement.
When these conditions are present a valid contract is formed. Id at 496.
The Court took notice of the absence of disclaimers, and placed a great weight on the phrase included in the handbook that stated that the handbook was a clarification of the rights and duties of employees, Accordingly, the Court held that the employer was bound to the provisions contained in the handbook.