When Illinois residents agree to work for a company, often the agreement specifies that the worker is an at-will employee. That means the employer can terminate the worker’s employment at any time, given that the reason for termination is legal.
Likewise, under an at-will agreement, the employee can strike or otherwise quit working at any point. But remember this: an employer cannot fire an at-will employee for just any reason. Again, the reason has to be legal. And it is not legal to fire someone over a justified workers’ compensation claim, or over past injuries that don’t affect the worker’s current performance.
For example, consider an Illinois case that was settled in 2012. A worker was injured on the job, and for three months he was unable to work. He underwent surgery for his injury and received workers’ compensation. Physicians gave him a rating of 17 percent permanent impairment.
When he was able to work again, the man got a warehouse job for which he occasionally drove a forklift. A supervisor heard about the man’s prior injury, which the employee did not mention in his application, and the supervisor inquired in an email as to whether he could fire the employee to avoid the risk that he might get hurt again.
The inquiry itself was not illegal, but what happened next was: the company fired the man. He then sued the company, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since the supervisor’s inquiry was available in an email, the worker was able to present it to the court, which ruled that he was fired on the basis of his prior injury and not on the basis of his work performance.
The worker won his case, and it should remind other Illinois residents of the importance of being aware of your rights as a worker before, during and after an injury.