The short answer is yes. Illinois is an at-will state, which means that an employee can resign whenever he or she wants, and an employer can terminate employment whenever they choose – with or without a reason or notice.
However, employers are not allowed to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age or retaliation for opposing unlawful discrimination. There are a few other instances of unlawful termination. If you believe you were released based on one of the covered factors as outlined by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, you can file a complaint with the help of a legal professional.
Things to consider if you file a complaint
If you chose to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, it must be filed 180 days from the day the discrimination occurred. Additionally, the Department cannot investigate matters related to personal conflicts or political stances unless they are related to one of the protected categories. The Department also does not investigate unfair union practices or charges against the federal government.
If the employer has fewer than 15 employees, the Department can only investigate your complaint if it is related to sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation or disability. They can, however, investigate if the employer is a part of the state government or is a public contractor.
Two common discriminatory terminations
Pregnancy: Believe it or not, employees are still discriminated against for pregnancy-related matters. Childbirth and any complications during or after pregnancy are protected from employment discrimination. Public Act 098-1050 shields women from unjust termination due to any limitations they may have with performing duties, such as lifting, needing to sit more often and more restroom breaks, despite an employer’s ability to easily provide such reasonable accommodations. The Act also protects women from wrongful termination due to conditions of pregnancy, childbirth or any other common conditions associated with the pre- and post-partum process.
Retaliation: Retaliation is discriminatory and illegal. The most common instance of this type of termination is when an employee is fired because he or she filed a workers’ compensation claim, reported workplace accidents, spoke up against sexual harassment or reported some other company discrimination or wrongdoing.
Retaliation is not only in the form of job loss. It can also be a demotion or loss of a promotion. However, most employers may try to justify adverse employment actions, and this can complicate and prolong an investigation. For this reason, it is important to speak with an experienced employment law attorney when a situation arises.