Your Rights

Getting Fired

Getting fired from a job is never easy, especially if no reason for the termination is given. Illinois is an “employment at-will” state, meaning that an employer or employee may terminate the relationship at any time, without any reason or cause.

But before you let emotions get the best of you, try to assess the facts behind your unexpected unemployment. If reasons were given, make notes while they are fresh in your mind. Jot down who terminated you, the reason given, and other pertinent facts. You may or may not be able to get a copy of your personnel record. If you can’t, and decide to file a lawsuit, be aware that the courts can order the employer to turn over those records.

Employment at-will doesn’t let an employer off the hook if his action was motivated by discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, age, marital status, physical or mental handicap, military service or unfavorable military discharge. If you believe you were discriminated against because of any of these reasons, consult with an attorney.

Laws also protect employees from being fired or disciplined for reporting to the government what is believed to be illegal activities or safety violations. So-called “wrongful termination” can be based on several theories, including breach of an employment contract and constructive discharge, as well as the protection given by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 to an employee who reports wrongdoing.

Some employees sign employment contracts or have union protection, which stipulate when they can be fired. Even without a written contract, an employee may have an “implied contract.” In determining whether there is an implied contract, a court would consider factors such as length of employment, promotions, job performance evaluations and the company’s written employee policies. To have someone fired in this instance, the employer must show proof that the termination is based on the business’s financial hardship, such as a poor economy, or else poor job performance. Some employers require departing employees to sign a waiver of all rights.

Employees who are fired must by law receive any back pay and vacation pay. Failure to receive this pay may be a reason to consult with an attorney.


Note: This information was prepared as a public service by the Illinois State Bar Association. Every effort has been made to provide accurate information at the time of publication. For the most current information, please consult your lawyer. If you need a lawyer and do not have one, visit our lawyer referral page


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