If you've been fired or laid off, or if you have been treated unfairly at work, you may have a few questions about whether your rights were violated or whether you have a claim that could justify filing a lawsuit. Here are some facts that answer questions I encounter on a regular basis in the course of client consultations regarding employment discrimination or workplace violations: Twelve Key Facts You MUST Know: 1) In Illinois, employees are presumed to be "at will" unless there is a contract that spells out the terms of their employment. At-will employees may be fired for any reason except for discrimination based on physical or mental handicap, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, military status, sexual orientation, or unfavorable discharge from military service. You also cannot be fired for filing a complaint about an employer's misconduct. Being fired for any of those discriminatory reasons is a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act and/or Federal law. 2) It is also illegal to discriminate against an employee for any of the above reasons in making decisions related to hiring, promotions, job assignments or wages. 3) The first step in an employment discrimination case begins with a Complaint. The Complaint can be filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or both. When a Complaint is filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, it is also automatically filed with the EEOC pursuant to the work sharing agreement between the agencies when the box in the lower left hand corner of the Complaint is checked. There is no filing fee to file a Complaint at the IDHR or EEOC. The address, phone number and web site for the Illinois Department of Human Rights is: Illinois Department of Human Rights Thompson Center, 10-100 100 West Randolph Street Chicago, Illinois 60601 312.814.6242 www.il.us/dhr/ The address, phone number and web site for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 500 West Madison, Suite 2800 Chicago, Illinois 60661 312.353-2713 www.eeoc.gov 4) The time to file a Complaint with the IDHR is within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. The time to file a Complaint with the EEOC is within 300 days of the alleged discrimination. The limitation period begins to run when the discriminatory acts occur, not when the discriminatory acts are felt. 5) Prior to filing a civil lawsuit in either state or federal court, you must receive a right-to-sue letter from IDHR or the EEOC. The plaintiff must file the lawsuit within 90 days after receipt of the right-to-sue letter or their claim is forever barred. Thus, there are essentially two dates that you must be aware of: the first being 300 days from the discriminatory action to file with the EEOC (or 180 with the IDHR); and, second, you must file your lawsuit 90 days after the date a right-to-sue letter was issued. 6) The size of the employer (by number of employees) determines whether there is jurisdiction with the EEOC or IDHR. Employers that have less than 15 employees are not subject to the jurisdiction of either the EEOC or IDHR for race, sex, national origin, religion and Title VII retaliation in non-federal employment cases. There is an exception to this rule for sexual harassment cases with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and for retaliation. Thus, if the employer has under 15 employees, the IDHR is the only option for filing a Complaint as the EEOC will not have jurisdiction. 7) After the IDHR or EEOC (or both) complete their investigation of your complaints, you are entitled to have a copy of their investigation file, including the documents that your employer submitted, and the investigation results. This is important and should be obtained immediately after the investigation is closed because it will allow an attorney to evaluate your employment discrimination case prior to filing a lawsuit in state or federal court. This is the most helpful document you can obtain for your case. 8) Unemployment benefits are based on both federal and state laws. Illinois' unemployment compensation program is operated by the state and provides benefits to workers who have been terminated without cause, through no fault of their own. Employees who quit their job for "good cause" may also be entitled to benefits. 9) If your employer schedules you to work more than six days in any given week, they might be violating the law. Illinois labor law requires all employers to give workers one "day of rest" - meaning 24 hours of consecutive time off - in every seven-day week. The day of rest law does not apply to all employees. If you work part time (20 hours or less per week), the law does not apply to you. There are a few other exceptions, including coal miners, agriculture workers, security guards, and those who are considered "executive, administrative, or professional" (generally salaried employees). 10) In addition to the day of rest, every employer must allow 20 minutes of unpaid meal time for every employee working 7 1/2 hours or more. The meal time must begin no later than 5 hours into the work period. There is an exception where the employee is in a position that requires them to be on call - such as someone who monitors individuals with a medical illness. If you have a position like this, you do not have to be given the meal period, but you must be allowed to eat on the job. There is no law in Illinois requiring employee breaks beyond the meal period. The only exception is for the hotel industry: In Cook County, hotel attendants who work at least 7 hours get two 15-minute paid breaks and one 30-minute unpaid meal time. 11) On many occasions, employers fail to fairly compensate their employees for time spent working. For instance, in these situations you may be entitled to additional compensation: Vacation Pay Claims - if your employer requires you to forfeit earned vacation pay when you lose your job or quit, it may violate state or federal laws. Temporary Employees - if you are a temporary employee ("Temp"), your company must report all the hours you worked to the staffing company and you must paid for overtime that you worked. Drivers - drivers of vehicles under 10,000 lbs. are often entitled to overtime pay. Uniformed employees - workers who must wear uniforms or other necessary equipment and gear may be entitled to pay for the time spent putting them on and taking them off. Illegal Time Clock Systems - employers who use time clocks to record the time that you worked may be violating the law by rounding down to the nearest fifteen minute increment. Field engineers and Service Technicians - telecommunications companies employ field engineers and service technicians who are generally entitled to overtime pay. You are always entitled to be paid for all the hours you work. 12) In general, employees in Illinois may be entitled to overtime pay for any work they perform beyond 40 hours a week. Typically once you work 40 hours in a week you are entitled to be paid at a rate 1.5 times your normal pay rate. There are exceptions to this rule for many different jobs. These are called exempt jobs. Some examples of professions that are exempt would be most managers and secretarys. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule so if you are working overtime and not getting paid for it, you should still find out if you are eligible. Finally, it's important to note that the revenue of your employer can determine your eligibility for overtime. If your employer has less than $500,000.00 a year in revenue, they are typically not required to pay any overtime benefits.
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