When Can an Employee Sue Their Employer?

Under Illinois and federal law, an employer has a duty to their employees when it comes to ensuring a safe, healthy working environment. Issues such as discrimination or harassment can create a hostile work environment for employees, and as such are against the law. If your employer violates the labor and fair employment laws in Illinois, then litigation or dispute resolution may be in order.

There are several reasons why an employee may sue their employer, but it’s important to note first that there are scenarios when they cannot. Specifically, if an employee is injured on the job, they cannot sue their employer for their injury. Instead, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, which can pay for lost wages and medical expenses.

So when can an employee sue? The following sections will detail a few scenarios when litigation is an option.


Discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and numerous other characteristics is against both Illinois and federal law. The Illinois Human Rights Act includes protections for people of all backgrounds as well as disabled persons, allowing them to file a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR). From there, a lawsuit can be made if there is enough evidence to support their claim.

Discrimination in the workplace can take numerous forms, including unfair treatment based on race, color, religion, etc.; pejorative comments; harassment; and wrongful discharge. For instance, if you were passed up for a promotion, but a less-qualified individual was granted the position, you may be a victim of discrimination and therefore entitled to justice.


Harassment of any kind is strictly against the standards set forth by federal and state laws, including the Civil Rights Act in that it is considered to be a form of discrimination. It may involve comments or actions that impact one’s work performance or create a hostile or offensive environment. Sexual harassment in particular can be problematic for employees.

As with discrimination, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) investigates instances of harassment and determines whether a hostile environment existed. The company may be forced to pay compensation to those affected.

Wrongful Discharge

Illinois law dictates that employment is “at-will,” meaning your employer can fire you for any reason whatsoever—with a few exceptions. There are illegal reasons for termination, including:

  • Discriminatory reasons
  • Retaliation for exercising your own rights

In addition, if firing you would be in violation of an employment contract, then doing so would also be illegal.

For instance, if you stood up for your own rights in the workplace, such as by pointing out harassment or discrimination, or if you feel you were terminated because of race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, etc., then your employer may be liable for wrongful termination.


In most cases, Illinois employees are entitled to overtime pay—only certain types of workers are exempt from this. At times, however, someone may be misclassified as exempt when really they are owed overtime. In these cases, they can press charges against their employer.

In any situation, suing your employer can be a risky and arduous process, which is why skilled legal counsel and representation are vital to success. Hart David Carson, LLP, can provide you with the employment litigation assistance you need.

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