Terminating an employee creates a risk that the employee may file wrongful termination lawsuits if their employment with a company unexpectedly and unwillingly comes to an end. Even though Illinois is considered an “at-will” employment state, this does not mean that Illinois employers can terminate their employees for any reason at all. Specifically, terminating an employee because of the employee’s disability, sex, pregnancy, race, or any other “protected” classification can lead to expensive and time-consuming litigation for the employer.
The Ease with Which Wrongful Termination Lawsuits Can Arise
While an employer may believe there are strong reasons for terminating an employee, an outside observer may believe the situation is as clear-cut. For example, you may believe you are terminating a female employee for chronic absenteeism, but the employee (and others) may reasonably believe it was due to the employee’s pregnancy. Similarly, an employee may produce far fewer results than his peers, but it may appear to others that his termination is due to his age, not his productivity.
No employer can eliminate the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit, but there are steps you can take to help minimize the likelihood of a successful wrongful termination lawsuit from disrupting your business operations:
- Create written policies and distribute them to your employees: Whether your business is big or small, you, your employees, and your operations can all benefit from written employee conduct and performance expectations. Once these are created, be certain to distribute them to your employees to read. Consider having your employees sign a form indicating that they have read your policy manual and understand it.
- Enforce your policies fairly and consistently: When you discipline one employee differently than another when both employees have violated the same policy, a court or other observer will question your true motivation for disciplining the one employee while not disciplining the other. Eliminate this potential pitfall by simply enforcing your written policies in a consistent manner.
- Keep records of employee disciplinary issues. It is much easier to justify terminating an employee for excessive absenteeism or poor productivity (for example) if you maintain records about prior talks or disciplinary actions you have had with the employee about their violations of company policies. These notes should be completed as soon as possible following the disciplinary talk or act and remain part of the employee’s file.
When You Are Served with a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit, Seek Help
The experienced Illinois employment law firm of Goldman & Ehrlich can help you and your business successfully navigate a wrongful termination lawsuit. Contact us as soon as possible to discuss your lawsuit by calling 312-332-6733 or by completing our firm’s online contact form.