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 ›