At-Will Employment

In Illinois, most employees are considered to be “at will” employees. In an
“at-will” employment relationship, either party—the employer or the
employee—may end the employment relationship at any time. Thus, just as
an employee can typically quit his or her job on any given day, without
reason and without even giving notice, an employer may generally fire an
“at will employee” for any reason or, for no reason.


While it is generally legal for an employer to fire an employee for any
reason or, for no reason, there are certain recognized exceptions to this

First, if an employee has a written contract of employment with the
employer for a specific duration or term, (a rare circumstance) the
employee may have a contractual right to continued employment for the
balance of the term provided for in the contract.

Second, employers are subject to federal, state and local ant-discrimination
laws, which apply to at-will employees.

Finally, an employer may not fire an employee for certain types of
“protected” conduct. For instance, courts have held that termination is
wrongful where it is motivated by the employee having filed a worker’s
compensation claim, or where the termination is in retaliation for what is
commonly referred to as “whistle-blowing” activities of the employee.

Whistleblower Exception

A “whistleblower” is an individual who, believing the public interest
overrides the interest of the employer, alerts public officials (i.e. law
enforcement), or in some cases, the employer’s management, to the fact
that the employer is involved in corrupt, illegal or fraudulent activity. This
exception to the general rule of at-will employment makes it illegal for an
employer to fire an employee for disclosing (or possibly even threatening to
disclose) this sort of information to law enforcement authorities. While the
misconduct does not have to be actual criminal activity, it must violate a
well established public policy.

The following conditions must be met in order for a whistleblower
exception to apply:

1) the employee disclosed information to a government or law enforcement
2) the employee had reasonable cause to believe that the information
disclosed was a violation of a state or federal law or regulation; and
3) there is a causal connection between the employer’s termination of the
employee and his disclosure of the information.

The whistleblower statute also protects employees from employer
retaliation if they refuse to participate in illegal activity.

Worker’s Compensation Exception

The second exception to the general rule of at-will employment involves
worker’s compensation claims. This exception makes it illegal for an
employer to fire an employee because he has filed a worker’s compensation

In order for this exception to apply, the plaintiff must allege the following:

1) plaintiff was discharged;
2) the firing was in retaliation for plaintiff having filed a worker’s
compensation claim.

Once the plaintiff has established the above elements, the employer can
defeat the claim if he asserts a valid, non-retaliatory basis for terminating
the employment relationship. Therefore, it is generally not enough to show
merely that you were fired after filing a worker compensation claim, you
must be able to show the firing was motivated by the filing of the worker
compensation claim.

While an employer is not allowed to terminate an employee because that
employee has filed a worker’s compensation claim, the exception is narrow.
For instance, an employer may not be required to indefinitely retain an
employee who becomes medically or physically unable to perform his/her job,
due to a work related injury.