A New Hampshire company, Salerno Protective Services, recently allegedly terminated employee Lamar Austin for missing work. The reason he missed work? He wanted to be with his wife while she went into labor and had their son. Soon after the healthy baby was born, Austin received a not-so-congratulatory text from his employer: “As of now, you are terminated.”
Illinois, like New Hampshire, is an at-will employment state. In other words, employers can generally fire employees for any reason or no reason at all – so long as the company does not commit prohibited discrimination, retaliation, or violate some other specific state or federal law. Unfortunately, that means a company may be legally entitled to terminate a worker who has the audacity to attend the birth of his son.
There are a few laws that may turn this situation into a wrongful termination. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of leave for the birth of his or her child, and to care for the newborn child. The law allows both the father and mother to take leave. However, keep in mind the FMLA generally only applies if the employer has 50 or more employees (and government agencies), the employee worked for over one year, and the employee worked at least 1250 hours in the preceding year. These requirements exclude many individuals from FMLA protections.
Luckily things seem to be turning out well for Austin. When local companies learned about the circumstances surrounding his termination, many business leaders reached out to him with job offers. A friend also started a GoFundMe Page in his honor, which has exceeded its $10,000 goal.
Hopefully Illinois and other states will enact laws to prohibit these types of terminations. These laws are often not enacted simply because most people think they are not necessary. It is common sense that an employer would not fire an employee simply for wanting to attend the birth of his or her child. People once thought laws prohibiting retaliation for reporting sexual harassment and prohibiting retaliation for grieving a deceased child were unnecessary because it didn’t happen. However, both types of laws have been enacted in Illinois, to combat the unusual employer that denies basic rights and decency to employees.
If you believe a company wrongfully terminated your employment, contact an experienced employment attorney immediately.