Constructive Discharge and Wrongful Termination Under Illinois Law

Constructive Discharge and Wrongful Termination Under Illinois Law

The Illinois Human Rights Act protects employees from workplace harassment based upon certain characteristics, such as race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, and others. Where misconduct creates a hostile work environment, employees may file a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights to address it. However, in some situations, you may face the difficult decision to quit because of the unbearable conditions. Under the circumstances, you probably assume that you give up certain rights: After all, you must be an employee in order to bring a claim regarding employment discrimination.

This is not always the case in Illinois under the concept of constructive discharge. Where an employer’s misconduct creates such a hostile work environment that you are effectively forced to quit, you may still have many of the same remedies available for wrongful termination in Illinois. Some background information may be useful.

General Rules Regarding Wrongful Termination

Illinois is an “at-will” employment state, which means your employer may terminate you for any reason, at any time. One exception is when the employer’s acts amount to discrimination based upon your membership in a protected class. It is against state and federal law for an employer to fire you because of sex, race, religion, and related characteristics, so you can claim wrongful termination under such circumstances.

Overview of Constructive Discharge

Where quitting may make a wrongful termination claim unavailable in some cases, you may have a legal remedy under the theory of constructive discharge. You must establish that:

  • Your employer knowingly and intentionally engaged in workplace harassment by creating an intolerable, hostile work environment;
  • The unbearable conditions at your place of employment were so extreme that you had no choice but to resign your position; and,
  • Illegal motivations or discrimination were the only reason for the constructive discharge.

Based upon these elements, note that it is not enough that your employment environment is merely unpleasant. There must be a continuing pattern of insufferable misconduct which your employer either knows about or engages in directly. Isolated acts are generally not enough to rise to the level of constructive discharge unless they are extremely heinous and repulsive. For instance, you may have a claim for wrongful termination despite quitting where you suffer:

  • Constant yelling or shouting demeaning comments;
  • Extreme ranges or changes in shifts;
  • Risk of injury through a work project or assignment;
  • Transfer to another location or branch;
  • Badgering, bullying, and intimidation; and,
  • Unfair, unsupported performance evaluations that impact your salary.

Consult with a Chicago Employment Attorney to Avoid Sexual Harassment Issues

Even though you may not have a wrongful termination claim after quitting your job, you may have a remedy under the legal doctrine of constructive discharge. The key is proving that the work environment was so hostile that you had no choice but to leave, which requires significant factual proof. If you would like to discuss your case and legal options, please contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline. We can schedule a free consultation at our Chicago office to review your circumstances.