The wrongful discharge claims against McDonalds are gaining nationwide attention. These cases are interesting as they seek to impose liability on a franchisor (as opposed to just the franchisee).
In Illinois, employers may not terminate, demote, refuse to hire, refuse to promote, or base any other terms and conditions of an employee based on the employee’s race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability. Doing so may be violating state and federal discrimination and harassment laws that were established to protect an employee’s right to work in an environment that is free of discrimination and harassment due to their membership in a protected class. It is also often illegal to retaliate against an employee who seeks to protect their legal rights.
Harassment sometimes occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome comments, actions, jokes, or mistreatment by a supervisor, employer, co-worker, or customer in the workplace in connection with the employee’s job based on the employee’s membership in a protected class. To be actionable, the harassment must be more than a supervisor or co-worker failing to be nice to the employee. Rather, the harassment must be severe enough to create a “hostile work environment.”
Under Illinois law, a hostile work environment is created when actions, comments, jokes, or other harassing conduct are so constant and pervasive that a reasonable person would find the environment “hostile.” Therefore, an isolated incident typically is not considered a harassing work environment until it becomes repeated.
To establish a harassment claim, an employee must prove he was subjected to conduct based on his membership to a protected class, the conduct was unwelcome, the conduct was so pervasive that a reasonable person in the same position would find the environment hostile, the employer knew or should have known about the conduct, and the employer did not take reasonable steps to remedy the situation or prevent the harassment from recurring.