It is against the law for an employer to fire an employee because of the employee’s race, gender, religion, age, or disability, but because of Illinois’s at-will employment laws, it is legal for an employer to terminate an employee’s job for just about any other reason. How do you prove that your employer fired you for the wrong reason instead of just because they felt like it? Sometimes employers show their worst side when employees take their employers to task and demand that the employers respect the employees’ legal rights. When an employer terminates the employment of a worker in response to that worker complaining about unfair, illegal, or unethical actions by the employer, it is called workplace retaliation. If you have experienced or witnessed employer retaliation in your workplace, the Chicago employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you stand up for your rights and your financial interests.
It is Against the Law for Your Employer to Fire You for Exercising Your Rights
Illinois is an at-will employment state, and many workers in Chicago are hired on an at-will basis. When you applied for your job or accepted the job offer, you probably read in the employee handbook that your employment is on an at-will basis. This means that you are free to quit your job at any time and for any reason. Likewise, your employer has the right to terminate the employment relationship at any time and is not required to notify you in advance that the employment relationship is ending. The law does, however, place some restrictions on reasons that your employer can fire you. Anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from terminating an employee’s employment because of a protected characteristic of the employee, such as the employee’s race, gender, national origin, religion, or disability. It is also against the law for an employer to end the employment relationship because the employee has engaged in a legally protected action.
The following are examples of legally protected actions, which means that you have the right to do them without fear of retaliation by your employer:
- Insisting on fair pay, including a base pay rate of at least $8.50 per hour before taxes for non-tipped employees, overtime pay when applicable, and your fair share of the employee tip pool (if a substantial portion of your income comes from tips)
- Complaining about discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, disability, national origin, marital status, or sexual orientation
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim or disputing a denial of a workers’ compensation claim
- Reporting a workplace safety hazard to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability or disputing your employer’s denial of your request for an accommodation
- Participating in an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about a discrimination complaint that someone else filed against your employer
- Requesting an unpaid leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
What Does Retaliation Look Like?
Retaliation is anything your employer does to punish you for exercising your rights and standing up for yourself. If you have exercised one of your legal rights as an employee, and shortly thereafter, your employer takes an adverse action against you, this is employer retaliation. These are some of the ways that employer retaliation can manifest itself:
- Terminating your employment, especially while citing a vague reason such as “not being a team player”
- Reducing your pay or denying you a pay raise when most other workers get them
- Suspending you from your job or placing you on probation or unpaid administrative leave
- Demoting you to a position with less authority
- Changing your job duties or work schedule to something that is inconvenient or burdensome for you
- Being unfairly critical of you in a routine performance review
- Taking disciplinary action against you, such as writing you up or subjecting your work to additional scrutiny in the guise of mentorship
- Threatening to take away your immigration status or that of your spouse or children by revoking sponsorship for your work visa or green card
- Creating a hostile work environment through derogatory comments, gaslighting, micromanaging, and other forms of harassment
- Providing a negative reference when a prospective employer calls your current or former employer
What Employer Retaliation is Not
Correlation does not equal causation, and if your employer terminates your employment after you engage in a protected action (such as reporting an OSHA violation or requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability), your employer will probably try to argue that the protected action was not the cause of the termination of your employment. Your employer will probably cite every mistake you have made in recent memory to show that the reason for the termination of your job was something other than the protected action. To strengthen your case, do not go out of your way to antagonize your employer or sabotage your company’s work. Just take the protected action and then go on doing your job as you always have, to whatever extent possible.
How to File a Workplace Retaliation Complaint
Not all incidents of employer retaliation are alike, so if your employer has retaliated against you for taking a protected action, you should contact the Chicago employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP. It is also a good idea to contact an employment lawyer if you plan to engage in a protected action and want advice about what to do if your employer retaliates. Filing a lawsuit about workplace discrimination is a multi-step process. If you plan to file a lawsuit against an employer for retaliation related to a discrimination complaint, you must first get permission from the EEOC.
Contact a Chicago Employment Lawyer About Employer Retaliation
Even if you are an at-will employee, your employer cannot fire you for exercising your rights. An employment discrimination lawyer in Chicago can help you protect yourself against workplace retaliation. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Chicago, Illinois to set up a consultation.