Illinois Retaliatory Discharge & Whistleblower Laws
Although Illinois follows at-will employment, which allows employers to fire employees for any reason or no reason at all, there are exceptions to that rule. If the employer fires an employee as retaliation for engaging in a protected activity, the employer may be liable for retaliatory discharge and/or the Illinois Whistleblowers Act.
What is considered retaliatory discharge?
Retaliatory discharge is a narrow exception to the employment at-will doctrine. To establish a claim for retaliatory discharge, an employee must prove that: (1) he/she was terminated, (2) the termination was based upon the employee having engaged in protected activity, and (3) the termination violates a clear mandate of public policy.
A clearly mandated public policy may be found in state and federal constitutions, statutes, and common law. It has been said that to constitute a clearly mandated public policy, the “matter must strike at the heart of a citizen’s social rights, duties, and responsibilities….” See Turner v. Memorial Medical Center, 233 Ill.2d 494, 911 N.E.2d 369 (2009) (quoting Palmateer v. International Harvester Co., 85 Ill. 2d 124, 421 N.E.2d 876 (1981)). Generally speaking, Illinois courts have determined the existence of a clearly mandated public policy where (1) the discharge stems from asserting a worker’s compensation claim or (2) the discharge is for “whistleblowing,” i.e. reporting of illegal or improper conduct. See Sutherland v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., 356 Ill.App.3d 620, 826 N.E.2d 1021 (2005) (citing Geary v. Telular Corp., 341 Ill.App.3d 694, 793 N.E.2d 128 (2003)).
Generally, an employee may state a claim for retaliatory discharge where he/she was terminated for complaining about the employer engaging in unlawful conduct. The flipside of that coin also is true – a retaliatory discharge claim may arise where an employer terminates an employee for refusing to engage in unlawful conduct.
For example, an employee may possess a retaliatory discharge claim where an employer fires the employee for refusing to give false testimony under oath. This may be in the form of an affidavit or live testimony in court. A retaliatory discharge claim also will be found where the employer terminates an employee because the employee complained of the employer violating state and/or federal regulations found in various environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, or regulations governed by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
The scenarios giving rise to retaliatory discharge claims are plentiful. It’s important that you consult with an attorney experienced in this area of law to obtain sound advice as to whether your situation involves a retaliatory discharge claim.
Are you considering blowing the whistle?
Whistleblowers help stop corruption against the government by reporting illegal or suspicious activities they may be seeing at work. A whistleblower cannot face retaliatory action for reporting crimes their employers may be involved in. Those that decide to become whistleblowers cannot be fired or demoted solely for blowing the whistle.
To learn more about the Illinois Whistleblower Act, please read our blog post.
Our Illinois Employment Lawyers are here for you
If you believe you have been subject to retaliatory discharge, it is important to speak to an experienced employment attorney. The lawyers at McDonald & Kloth, LLC can help you with your employment law matters, such as retaliatory discharge. Contact us today at 262-252-9122.