Illinois may be an at-will employment state, but employees of local and state government agencies enjoy greater protections against termination than do private sector employees. Specifically, where public employees have a reasonable property interest in their jobs and a reasonable expectation that their job would continue, the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the government employer from arbitrarily dismissing the employee from service without affording the employee due process. (Note that private employers do not have this obligation as the Fourteenth Amendment applies only to the actions of government, not private entities.). In addition, some government entities give the employee a right to a hearing before a civil service commission or personnel board where the employer has to prove just cause.
If public employees have a reasonable expectation that their employment would continue absent some misconduct, then a public employer may be guilty of wrongfully terminating the employee unless the employer gives the employee a reason or cause for the termination and an opportunity for the employee to present his or her side of the story. A variety of employer conduct can cause this reasonable expectation of employment to arise: An employee handbook that specifically states that an employee cannot be terminated absent “cause” or an employer’s practice of constantly renewing a public employee’s contract are just a few of the situations under which a court might find a public employee has a legitimate expectation that he or she would not be terminated without cause.
When terminating a public employee for “cause,” typically any misconduct, criminal act, or violation of an employee handbook or workplace policy would be sufficient “cause.” An employee who was consistently tardy or regularly absent without excuse from the workplace or one who deliberately discriminated against a customer (for example) could be terminated based upon those actions. Similarly, an employee who assaulted another employee or a customer could certainly find his or her employment terminated. An employee may also be terminated for persistent performance problems.
If a public employee has a legitimate expectation in continued employment and he or she is being terminated “for cause,” that employee may have an additional expectation to a disciplinary hearing or other similar session in which the employee can hear the accusations against him or her and has an opportunity to present his or her side of the story. Even if the employer possesses sufficient “cause” to terminate, terminating a public employee without providing due process may nonetheless render the termination wrongful.
Because of the many opportunities for costly missteps to occur in the termination of a public employee, if you or a loved one were employed by a local or state government agency and you were terminated from your employment, your termination may have been wrongful. Reach out to the employment law firm of Goldman & Ehrlich. We serve individuals in Illinois and Southwestern Michigan who have been terminated by their employers and help them assert their legal rights. Call us at 312-332-6733 or contact us online to schedule your consultation with us right away.