Articles Posted in Employment Termination

Can Illinois employers fire employees for their political speech or affiliations? The events of the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots along with the riots and protests across the country throughout the summer of 2020 have led many employers to ask similar questions. And as protests become more commonplace and political debates run rampant on social media, employers and employees alike will be seeking answers to this question more and more frequently as time passes.

As with most questions in employment law, the answer depends on the circumstances. Generally speaking, Illinois, as an “at will” state, is more likely to permit a termination over political views than other more worker-rights-focused states such as California. Being an “at will” state means that an employer can fire its employees for any reason that is not prohibited by law or against public policy. Despite having one of the most liberal human rights acts of all the states, however, the Illinois Human Rights Act is silent when it comes to private employer discrimination based on political party affiliation and political speech. The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on a specific protected trait or class including race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), citizenship status, familial status, national origin, ancestry, age (40 and over), order of protection status, marital status, sexual orientation (including gender-related identity), physical or mental disability, pregnancy, military status or unfavorable discharge from military service, and, in certain circumstances, arrest record. Notably absent though is political affiliation or speech. Continue reading ›

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees with disabilities. The key phrase in that sentence that is so often the subject of litigation is “reasonable accommodation.” In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit considered whether a two-pound lifting limit and a restriction on repetitive grasping and lifting arms more than 5% above the shoulder were reasonable accommodations for an employee of a regional sporting goods retailer. In affirming an order of summary judgment in favor of the sporting goods store, the Seventh Circuit found that such accommodations were unreasonable and left the employee unable to perform her essential job functions.

The plaintiff in the case, Angela Tonyan, was employed as a store manager at a Dunham’s Sports store in Wisconsin. During her employment, Tonyan sustained a series of injuries to both shoulders and left arm. After multiple surgeries and various temporary restrictions failed to remedy her condition, her doctor imposed several permanent restrictions including a two-pound lifting limit and restricting her from having to raise her arms above her head.

In response to these restrictions, Dunham’s fired Tonyan. The sporting goods retailer contended that its “lean” staffing model made physical work such as unloading and shelving merchandise essential job functions of its store managers like Tonyan. Following her termination, Tonyan sued claiming that the company violated her rights to reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The District Court found that the store did not violate her rights under the ADA and granted summary judgment to her former employer. Continue reading ›

The government enforces a separation of church and state, but what about a separation of church and employer?

Joel Dahl, who founded and runs Dahled Up Construction, requires all his workers to attend Christian Bible Study as a condition of continued employment.

Ryan Coleman, a convicted felon, said attending Bible study was not a condition of employment for the first month that he worked as a painter for Dahl. When it became mandatory, he attended for almost six months, afraid his felony conviction would prevent him from getting another job. When he finally said he wouldn’t attend the Bible study anymore, he was fired.

Coleman was disappointed, having just received a pay raise two weeks beforehand. He also loved his job, claiming he was excited to get up and go to work in the morning, and realizing how lucky he was to be one of the few people who could say that.

Coleman, who is half Native American, told Fox News that Christianity just wasn’t for him. Continue reading ›

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