Illinois Whistleblower Laws

State laws of Illinois as they apply to whistleblowers

A Summary of Illinois Whistleblower Laws

In Illinois, employees can be discharged from work for any reason or no reason under what is known as the employment-at-will doctrine. However, the state has adopted a few exceptions to this rule, which are designed to protect employees. These include common law protections and statutory protections. Common law protections are laws that are created by courts to address areas that are not covered by the enacted laws, while statutory protections are laws which are enacted by the state’s legislature. These laws only cover specific subject areas, e.g., workers’ compensation.

This is a summary of Illinois Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Whistleblower Rights in Illinois

Common Law Protections for Whistleblowers in Illinois

Illinois has a public policy that is used to protect employees under certain circumstances. To determine whether an employee was discharged for reasons that violate public policy, the courts usually look at statutes and constitutional provisions. So, for example, if a law, rule, or regulation endorses a worker’s right to collect workers’ compensation, an employer who retaliates against an employee for exercising a right related to workers’ compensation may be found guilty of violating public policy. Generally, Illinois’s public policy protects employees under the following circumstances:

  • Refusing to participate in unlawful activity.
  • Assisting in a criminal investigation concerning an employer or employee.
  • Reporting misconduct by an employer.

In the past, Illinois courts have protected whistleblowers who reported unlawful activity to either a supervisor or a public body. However, the new Illinois Whistleblower Act only protects whistleblowers who disclose information concerning unlawful acts to public bodies, e.g., a government agency. So whistleblowers need to make reports to public bodies since it is likely that the whistleblower act displaces the common law protections.

Statutory Protections in Illinois

Illinois Whistleblower Act

It is illegal for employers to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Participating in an administrative hearing, legislative commission, or proceeding concerning a violation of state and federal law, rule or regulation.
  • Disclosing information concerning a violation of state and federal law, rule, or regulation to a public body, e.g., law enforcement agency.
  • Refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state and federal law, rule, or regulation.

Also, employers are not allowed to adopt any rule or policy that prevents employees from disclosing a violation of a rule, law, or regulation to a public body. 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174/1.

Discrimination

Under this statute, it is against the law for an individual to discharge or in any way discriminate against a person in retaliation for:

  • Opposing discriminatory practices at work or in educational institutions.
  • Making a charge, filing a complaint, testifying, or assisting in an investigation or hearing related to discrimination law.
  • Attempting to use or using reasonable accommodation allowed under this statute.

Also, whistleblowers are not required to prove that discrimination was taking place. They only need to believe in good faith that unlawful discriminatory practices were being carried out. The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) prohibits discrimination of individuals in employment based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, order of protection status, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or unfavorable discharge from military service in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations. 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/6-101.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

Employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this act.
  • Instituting any proceeding under this Act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this act.
  • Exercising a right under this act on behalf of himself, herself, or others.

820 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 219/110.

Toxic Substances Disclosure to Employees Act

Employers are not allowed to discharge, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Exercising a right under this statute.
  • Making a claim or filing a complaint under this statute.
  • Testifying in a proceeding related to this statute.

Under this act, employers are required to provide their employees with information concerning the nature of the toxic substances with which they work and the suspected health hazards of such toxic substances. 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 255/14.

Workers’ Compensation

It is unlawful for an employer to:

  • Restrain, coerce, or in any manner interfere with the exercise of an employee’s right under this statute.
  • Discriminate or intend to discriminate against an employee because the employee exercised his or her rights under this statute.

820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 305/4(h).

Whistleblower Hotlines in Illinois

To file a complaint under the discrimination statute, call the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) at (312) 814-6262.

To file a complaint under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Toxic Substances Act, call the Illinois Department of Labor at 217-782-9386.

To file a complaint under the Workers’ Compensation statute, call the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission at 618/346-3484.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in Illinois

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, whistleblowers should file lawsuits within 5 years of the retaliation.

Discrimination

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) within 180 days of the retaliation.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

Complaints under this act should be filed within 30 days of the retaliation.

Toxic Substances Disclosure to Employees Act

Employees who allege that they have been denied their rights under this act are required to file a complaint within 180 days of the alleged denial or after learning about the denial.

Retaliation and Violation Penalties in Illinois

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, a court may award an employee a combination or any of the following types of reliefs:

  • Back pay and interest on back pay.
  • Reinstatement to the previous job position.
  • Litigation costs.
  • Cease and desist
  • Punitive damages
  • Plus any other compensation that the court deems appropriate.

Toxic Substances Disclosure to Employees Act

In addition to fulfilling the reliefs awarded to the employee, employers who violate this act may be liable to pay a fine of not more than $1000 for each violation. A willful or repeated violation may result in a fine of not more than $10,000 for each violation.

Discrimination

Employers who are found guilty of violating this statute may be liable to pay a fine of not more than $16,000 if they have never committed any prior civil rights violation. If the employer has previously violated a civil rights act, a fine not exceeding $42,500 may be imposed. In case of 2 or more prior civil rights violations, a fine not exceeding $70,000 may be imposed.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

Employers who violate this act may be liable to pay a fine not exceeding $1000. Intentional and repeated violations may result in a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Illinois Whistleblower Act

A violation of this act is considered a Class A misdemeanor.

Click for an overview of Federal Whistleblower Laws .

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