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Hiring, Termination & Discipline

For employers, hiring, firing and discipline are three areas which are laden with potential legal pitfalls which can lead to expensive liability. Sometimes employers with the best of intentions find themselves asking questions of prospective employees or making employment decisions based upon certain information or factors which the law either specifically prohibits or considers discriminatory.

Cotler Law LLC helps its clients to develop hiring criteria and questionnaires that both comply with the law and meet the clients’ specific hiring objectives.

While Illinois is considered an “Employment-At-Will” state, such that barring an agreement to the contrary, employees may be fired with or without “cause”, employers are not permitted to fire employees for reasons that are considered legally discriminatory or against public policy.

When it comes to employee discipline and termination, taking the proper steps to document employee misconduct or performance deficiencies is important. Employers often rely on documentation of misconduct or performance deficiencies to defend against unfounded employee claims of discrimination or wrongful discharge. Documentation is also helpful for an employer in situations where employee misconduct would make the employee ineligible for unemployment benefits.

As employment lawyers, Cotler Law LLC is able to assist clients in all phases of the employment relationship from hiring through termination.

The Performance Improvement Plan (a.k.a. “PIP”)

When an employee is told they are being placed on a PIP, their first reaction is often to become defensive. The employee often feels that the PIP is unjustified and that he or she is being unfairly disciplined or singled out by their manager or supervisor.

When properly used, PIPs can be an effective performance management tool. A PIP can provide an employee with specific guidance as to where his or her performance is lacking. A well drafted PIP should also provide specific ways in which the employee may improve his or her performance to meet the employer’s expectations.

Employees who receive a PIP should keep in mind that in Illinois the legal presumption is that the employee is employed “at will”, meaning that their employment can be terminated at any time for any reason (provided it is not an unlawful discriminatory reason). This means that an employer does not need to place an employee on a PIP prior to firing them.

Some employers choose to voluntarily enact a policy of progressive discipline in which performance deficiencies or certain types of workplace infractions lead to a warning prior to a termination. However, progressive discipline is not legally required, and such progressive discipline policies tend to be more the exception than the rule.

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