Protect Your Business from Wrongful Discharge Suits

wrongful discharge, employment litigation, Illinois Business LawyersAny growing company needs a team of dedicated employees to help an owner realize their vision and unlock the company’s true potential. Maintaining that team, however, can be difficult task, especially if the owner has limited experience in employing help. A responsible business owner must be adequately prepared for the challenges associated with hiring employees, while protecting the company from employment-related litigation over issues such as overtime pay, or wrongful discharge.

At-Will Employment in Illinois

The state of Illinois, like almost every other, is as “at-will” employment state, which means the relationship between employer and employee is legally very tenuous. In an at-will situation, employment may be terminated by either party at any time, for any legal reason, or for no reason whatsoever. An employer is legally free to send an employee home permanently in the middle of the day for no reason, just as an employee is free to walk out and never return.

An employment relationship can be modified, however, in a number of ways and modifications may create reasonable expectations for employees regarding discharge or termination.

At-Will Modifications in Writing

Signing an employment contract or a union contract will often override the at-will arrangement, as most contracts contain language specific to rights, responsibilities, and expectations for both parties. Similarly, an employee handbook produced by the employer may be considered a type of at-will modification contract. Information contained in a properly disseminated handbook can provide employees with reasonable guidelines that, if not followed by the employer, may be grounds for a wrongful discharge suit.

Letters, office memorandums, or other forms of published media can also alter at-will employment. Statements and promises made in such ways may be enforceable as many courts may recognize the documents as yet another form of contract between the employer and employees.

Verbal At-Will Modifications

While much more difficult for an employee to prove, the law does include considerations for oral modifications to an at-will agreement. Verbal promises must be clear and unambiguous in their intent and expectations, and typically involve employment duration or compensation. Employees seeking damages, including those for wrongful discharge, may find relying only on verbally communicated information to be detrimental to their efforts.

Wrongful Discharge

An employer may place the company at risk for a wrongful discharge suit by terminating the employment relationship in violation of either company-established contractual guidelines or labor laws. For example, if a properly communicated and agreed-upon company policy addresses tardiness, and the employer discharges an employee for being late without correctly following the policy, the employee may have grounds to file suit.

Likewise, discriminatory termination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, citizenship, or genetic information is prohibited by federal law. Illinois law offers further specific protection from discrimination, including on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation.

Protect Yourself and Your Business

As a business owner, one of the most important responsibilities you have to your employees is creating trust. Your team needs to know that you stand behind your promises both within your company and to your customers. A qualified employment lawyer can help you draft employment contracts or employee handbooks that both meet your business needs and those of your staff.

Preparation is the key to protecting your company from costly litigation. To get the help and guidance you need for your company, contact an experienced Illinois business law attorney for a consultation today.