Terminating Employees: From Whislteblowers to Implied Contracts

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Guidelines for terminating an at will employee in Illinois

 

At will employment is one of the most common forms of employer-employee relationship in Illinois.  If an employee is at will, he or she can be fired on any reasonable grounds, and the employer is not required to give the employee any warning leading up to termination. At will employment is not as simple as it appears on its face, and below I have outlined some of the major protections offered to at will employees in Illinois.

Termination Can’t Be Discriminatory

At will employees have protections under federal law concerning discrimination.  At will employees can’t be terminated from employment based on their gender, age, religion, race or disability.  If you fire an at will employee based on any of those criteria, you could potentially be in legal trouble because the employee would have grounds to bring a discrimination suit.

Whistleblowers Are Protected

A whistleblower is an employee who reports improper or illegal practices in his or her workplace.  An employer cannot terminate an employee for reporting them.  If you fire an employee for reporting your illegal or improper business practices, once again, that employee could bring a law suit against you.

Public Policy Exception

At will employees in Illinois also have the protection of a public policy exception to at will employment.  Under this exception, an at will employee’s termination from employment is wrongful if the employee’s termination goes against a well-established public policy of Illinois. For example, it would be wrongful for an employer to terminate an employee because the employee refused to break the law at the employer’s request.

Implied Contract Exception

Even when there is no written employment contract between an employee and their employer, a contract can still be implied because of the employer’s representations to the employee.  For example, if an at will employee is given an employment handbook when they start a job that states employees will only be fired for “just cause”, the court may view that statement as a representation creating an implied contract of employment.

The exceptions to at will employment above make it clear that just because an employee is deemed at will they can’t be terminated from employment for any reason.  Additionally, at will employees have some protections under federal and Illinois law concerning reasons for termination. 

If you have questions about at will employment, please contact the law office of Bellas & Wachowski at (800) 825-9260.