Is Illinois a Right to Work State?

FT Contributor  | 

What Is Right to Work?

The right-to-work law isn’t imposed by the federal government, so each state decides whether it adheres to this legislation or not. In a right-to-work state, the union security clause is null and void. This clause states that if a worker who is employed with a unionized employer stops paying union dues, they can be legally terminated.

In a right-to-work state, employees of unionized employers aren’t required to pay union dues in order to keep their jobs. Employees may choose to join the union and pay dues if they desire but they can cancel their membership at any time without fear of being terminated.

Even without paying union dues, employees who work for unionized employers are still provided with the benefits afforded to union members. This union coverage is free for these employees. However, if they need the union to represent them legally or request other services, these employees are still responsible for the associated costs.

At-Will Employment

Similar to the right-to-work law, the at-will employment law affects the way workers are employed and their termination. These two laws address different issues in the workforce but both reiterate the fact that employment is not guaranteed for workers.

Unlike right-to-work legislation, all states are required to adhere to the at-will employment law. This law states that the contract between an employer and employee may be terminated at any time, without explanation or notice. Essentially, the at-will employment law allows you to quit your job whenever you’d like without legal repercussions. It also allows your employer to terminate your employment at any time without reason and without notice.

An exception to this rule is employees who have written or implied contracts that include specific time durations. They’re required to serve their full contract unless there is good reason they cannot perform their duties. With contracted employees, an employer must have a good and valid reason for termination, such as the employee not performing adequately. Employers are also banned from firing employees simply to avoid paying for healthcare benefits, paid time off, or other responsibilities.

At-will employment allows employers to terminate employees who aren’t contracted for good, bad, or indifferent reasons. However, if an employee feels their termination was due to discrimination related to disabilities, race, age, gender, or nationality, they may claim wrongful termination.

Is Illinois a Right-to-Work State?

There are no federal right-to-work laws in place, so each state chooses whether to enact this legislation. Illinois is not a right-to-work state and does not have state laws against the union security clause.

When Can You Be Fired in Illinois?

With no right-to-work law in place and at-will employment observed throughout the nation, you may be worried about your own termination status. It’s important to note that most employers try not to terminate employees at all costs. They usually set up termination policies that include warning and discipline systems so you’ll know if you’re at risk for termination.

There are several common reasons you may be terminated in Illinois, including the following:

  • Your employer goes out of business and you’re laid off.
  • Your position is eliminated.
  • You consistently show up late or leave work early.
  • Your department experiences downsizing and you’re no longer needed.
  • Your job performance doesn’t meet your employer’s standards.
  • You steal goods or products from your employer.

Since Illinois isn’t a right-to-work state, you may also be terminated if you work for a unionized employer and stop paying regular union dues in the state.

If you’re terminated by your employer through no fault of your own, such as department downsizing or layoffs, you may be eligible to pursue unemployment benefits through the government. Your employer may also offer a severance package if your termination wasn’t related to your performance or negative actions while you were employed.

Other Illinois Labor Laws

Although Illinois doesn’t impose the right-to-work law, the state does have other legislation that protects workers’ rights.

Illinois Minimum Wage

The current Illinois minimum wage is set at $9.25. However, the minimum hourly wage an employer can legally pay employees varies by municipality. Workers who earn tips or who are younger than 18 may earn less than minimum wage.

Illinois Leave Laws

Illinois imposes the Employee Sick Leave Act, which requires that employers allow workers to use sick leave to care for sick loved ones or relatives. Employers must allow employees to use their paid or unpaid sick leave to attend medical appointments or provide care for immediate relatives just as they would if they were sick and needing to miss work.

Child Labor Laws

Illinois Child Labor Laws protect workers who are under 16 years of age to ensure they’re treated fairly and not overworked. The law requires these young employees to obtain a certificate to work, which verifies they’re physically capable of performing the job and that it won’t interfere with their education. Workers under 16 are prohibited from working jobs in hazardous environments and the hours they’re allowed to work are restricted depending on their school schedule.

Illinois Civil Rights Laws

Along with federal legislation, the Illinois Human Rights Act protects workers from discrimination. Employees cannot be mistreated or terminated based on certain characteristics, including their:

  • Ethnicity;
  • Religion;
  • Race;
  • Creed;
  • Nationality;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender;
  • Age.

Employers are also prohibited from terminating or retaliating against workers who speak out against company policies or unfair treatment.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Illinois Human Rights Act also protects pregnant workers from discrimination or wrongful termination based solely on their medical condition. Additionally, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers when requested to ensure they can still perform their regular duties. This may include amending work hours, requiring less physical activity, or providing a private office or space as needed.

Unemployment Laws

Workers who are terminated due to no fault of their own may be eligible to apply for unemployment insurance benefits in Illinois. To qualify, workers must have been employed with companies who paid unemployment taxes and they must have earned at least $1,600 during their most recent year of employment. Unemployed workers may apply for unemployment benefits through the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Worker’s Compensation Laws

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commision enforces laws that require employers to carry worker’s compensation insurance. If an employee is injured on the job, they may file a worker’s compensation claim to obtain compensation for medical expenses and living expenses while they can’t work. Employers are also required to provide a safe environment for their employees and any necessary safety equipment they need to perform their duties without injury.

Illinois is not a right-to-work state but does enforce at-will employment law. The state also imposes other laws designed to protect workers from discrimination and unfair treatment.


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