CHICAGO EMPLOYMENT LAWYER
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With offices in Chicago, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska, Merrick Law Firm LLC exclusively represents individual employees against employers of various sizes, from small businesses to large corporations. Employers usually have unlimited resources, including both in-house and outside counsel. Merrick Law Firm, LLC is committed to leveling the playing field for employees. We provide legal advice, negotiate employment contracts and severance packages, and represent clients in employment litigation. Michael J. Merrick founded the firm and has over 30 years of employment law experience. He has been rated AV/Preeminent and a Super Lawyer from 2012-2024 as one of the top 5% of practicing employment lawyers in Illinois and Nebraska.EMPLOYMENT LAW
Employees benefit from representation by a skillful attorney who understands the interplay of the various aspects of the employment relationship. For example, your employment contract can affect whether you can pursue a claim in court before a judge and a jury or in arbitration before an arbitrator. For another example, your employer’s obligations in connection with your severance agreement may be affected by rules set forth under the federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA). Both federal and state employment and procedural laws are implicated in lawsuits brought by employees with the assistance of employment attorneys in the Chicago and Omaha areas. Federal laws that may affect your rights include the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), to name a few. Most states have similar laws and others that provide even greater protection.Sexual Assault and Harassment
A primary focus of our practice is representing employees who have been sexually assaulted or harassed in the workplace, either at the employer’s offices or while away on business trips. The conduct giving rise to a sexual assault case ranges from any physical touching to which the female employee did not consent to criminal rape at the other extreme. Sexual harassment can involve one employee pursuing an unwanted sexual relationship with another employee, or sexual comments or “jokes” in the workplace; however, the conduct does not need to be overtly sexual to constitute a sexually hostile work environment. All that is required is that the employee, most commonly a woman, is treated differently than the male employees because of her gender. Sexual assault and harassment can cause severe trauma that may be long-lasting. After the recent surge of the “Me Too” movement, courts are increasingly holding employers responsible for the serious harm unlawful sexual assault and harassment inflicts upon women.Suicide
We also represent the families of employees who have taken their own lives because of unrelenting harassment they had to endure while at work. These sad situations commonly involve extreme conduct of a sadistic supervisor and an employer that fails to comply with its legal duty to prevent and promptly stop unlawful harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In these cases, a probate estate must be opened with a personal representative appointed, usually a family member, to prosecute the case on behalf of the deceased employee. If you believe a bad supervisor or toxic work environment may have contributed to a family member’s decision to end his or her life, you should consult with a Chicago or Omaha employment attorney sooner rather than later before any filing deadlines expire.Serious Illness and Disability
Another significant focus of our practice is representing employees with serious illnesses and disabilities. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers employees with permanent impairments such as certain forms of blindness; employees who have had serious illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS) or heart attacks; and employees with temporary impairments from workplace injuries or accidents outside of work. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities that will allow them to perform their job duties and keep their jobs. One common accommodation is to provide a medical leave of absence when an employee is temporarily incapacitated or needs time off work for medical treatment and recovery. The ADA also makes it unlawful for an employer to terminate or otherwise discriminate against an employee because he or she has a disability, has a medical record of a disability, the employer erroneously perceives that the employee has a disability even if the employee does not have an actual disability, or if the employee is associated with someone with a disability such as a family member. In addition, the ADA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who have exercised rights under the ADA, for example by requesting a reasonable accommodation such as a medical leave of absence, and employees who have complained about disability discrimination. Most states and many local governments also have a fair employment practices act (FEPA) that provides protections similar to those under the ADA.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave per year to be taken continuously or on an intermittent basis to allow employees to care for their own serious health conditions or those of family members. The Act requires employers to return employees to their positions or substantially equivalent ones when they return to work from FMLA leave. The FMLA covers disabilities as defined under the ADA and also other serious health conditions that do not rise to the level of a disability. In addition to these substantive rights, the FMLA makes it unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee who has requested or taken FMLA leave.
We represent currently-employed individuals who are in the midst of dealing with challenges presented by serious illness or other disability, and former employees who believe their termination was related to their disability or medical leave.Retaliation
Most client matters we handle also include a retaliation claim. For example, if a female employee who has been sexually harassed in the workplace complains about the harassment to human resources and is then fired for no legitimate reason, she has an underlying claim for sexual harassment and a claim for retaliation stemming from her termination. Or if an employee is terminated after requesting a medical leave of absence, he has potential claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act regarding the employer’s failure to provide him with medical leave and retaliation claims regarding his termination. In fact, we find that the retaliation claims are often stronger than the underlying claim. If you engage in statutorily “protected activity” such as complaining about discrimination or other unlawful conduct, be on the lookout for any negative reactions from your employer which may be evidence of retaliation.Employment Discrimination
Employment discrimination lawsuits may be brought against an employer that discriminates based on an employee’s membership in a protected class. Protected characteristics under federal laws include age (over 40), sex, pregnancy, color, race, national origin, ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation, religion, military status, or an employee’s use of medical or family leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Illinois Human Rights Act and Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act also prohibit discrimination based on disability, age, gender, religion, national origin, and race. It also prohibits discrimination based on other protected characteristics that are not explicitly protected under federal law, such as sexual identity and marital status. Employers are not allowed to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or set pay or other terms and conditions of the job based on protected characteristics. Harassment is one form of discrimination.Disability Discrimination
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against workers with disabilities in connection with hiring, termination, promotion, demotion, pay, and other terms and conditions of the job. It is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and it applies to employers that have a minimum of 15 employees. Under the ADA, a disability is a mental or physical impairment that substantially restricts one or more major life activities or bodily functions. In order to be disabled, an employee can be currently disabled, have a record of this type of impairment, or be perceived as having this type of impairment. The employer is supposed to provide a reasonable accommodation for a known disability of a qualified employee, except when doing so would present an undue hardship. The Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act also covers employers with 15 or more employees and provides similar protections. The Illinois Human Rights Act also prohibits disability discrimination and there is no minimum number of employees needed for an employer to be covered. A Chicago or Omaha employment attorney can bring a disability discrimination claim under either federal or state law.Family and Medical Leave Act
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers with at least 50 employees who meet certain criteria need to provide 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in the period of a year for certain reasons. FMLA leave covers employees who need to take a medical leave of absence due to their serious medical condition, to take care of a parent, child, or spouse with a serious medical condition, to care for a newborn, or to care for a child who has been placed with them for foster care or adoption. The leave can be used intermittently, and the employee may work less than full-time. While an eligible worker is on FMLA leave, he or she is entitled to keep health benefits. When the employee returns from FMLA leave, the employer should return the employee to the same position or a virtually identical one with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions. If your employer fails to properly return you to work after FMLA leave, an employment lawyer in Chicago or Omaha can help you hold the employer accountable.Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits an employer’s discrimination against an employee due to his or her sex in connection with the terms and conditions of the job. Sexual harassment is one form of sex discrimination. It can take two different forms: hostile work environment or quid pro quo harassment. A federal sexual harassment claim is initiated by filing a charge with the EEOC, after which it is possible to sue. The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment by an employer of any size.Wrongful Termination
Most states, including Illinois and Nebraska, are “at-will” employment states, meaning employees can resign at any time and employers can terminate them at any time for any reason or no reason, as long as the reason is not unlawful. However, there are exceptions. You cannot be fired in violation of your employment contract or an employer’s employment policies in certain circumstances. Sometimes the employee handbook spells out a policy that creates an enforceable contract that can be used as the basis of a wrongful termination lawsuit. A Chicago or Omaha employment lawyer can help you bring a wrongful termination lawsuit if you are fired for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation for engaging in protected activities.Employment Contracts
Our firm helps employees with their employment contracts. We are able to litigate breach of contract claims on behalf of employees, seeking compensation, benefits, and the enforcement of other rights set forth within the contract. We also draft employment contracts and fashion the terms to suit specific client needs while remaining in compliance with federal and state mandates. We review employment contracts put forward by our clients’ employers and prospective employers and either advise our clients about how to improve their terms of employment or negotiate directly with an employer or its attorney. We can also provide legal counsel to employees who want to take certain actions like resigning to join a competitor. We can assist in devising an exit strategy to minimize the risk of negative actions by the employer and maximize benefits.Non-Compete Agreements
If you have been asked to sign a restrictive covenant, you will face restrictions on your actions during and after employment with a specific employer. Restrictive covenants include non-compete agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and anti-raiding provisions. Covenants not to compete stop an employee from working for competitors for a specified time period. Some non-compete agreements are considered unreasonable and unenforceable in Illinois and Nebraska. A non-compete agreement is only valid if its restrictions are considered reasonable and necessary to protect an employer’s legitimate business interests. An employee may also agree not to solicit particular customers or clients for a particular period after their employment is terminated. An employment lawyer at our Chicago or Omaha offices can advise you on whether a certain non-compete agreement is likely to be enforceable.Severance Agreements
Employers are generally not required to pay severance. However, it is vital for many employees who are involuntarily terminated or who are in a bad situation with their employer to receive severance pay in order to tide them over as they apply for other jobs. Some employers will pay severance based on the custom and practice of the company or based on the provisions of an employment agreement. There are situations in which we can leverage an employee’s potential legal claims against an employer to convince the employer to provide severance or increase its initial offer. Severance packages vary and may include severance pay in the form of periodic payments or in a lump sum, the continuation of health insurance benefits for a certain period, help or cooperation with professional agencies so that an employee can get a new job, or payments into a retirement or pension account to maximize benefits.Whistleblowing and Retaliation
Many federal, state, and local laws shield employees from retaliation for being involved in specific actions. Federal and state laws prohibit employers from retaliating against an employee who engages in a protected activity, such as filing a complaint of harassment or discrimination. For example, if you file a charge of racial harassment and discrimination with the EEOC, your employer is not allowed to terminate you or demote you for filing this charge. Whistleblowers are also protected against retaliation by an employer. Whistleblowers are employees who refuse to engage in unlawful conduct or report illegal activity perpetrated by the employer, such as unsafe work conditions, securities violations, or fraudulent federal claims or accounting practices.Consult an Experienced Employment Attorney in the Chicago and Omaha Areas
If you are facing a dispute with your employer or seeking guidance on how to handle an issue in the workplace, you can consult the Merrick Law Firm. We can help you understand your legal rights and obligations, as well as advise you on your next steps. From offices in Chicago, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska, we represent people in Cook, DuPage, Lake, Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy Counties and throughout the states of Illinois and Nebraska. Depending on the type of case we may be able to handle it in any state in the United States or at the federal level. You may call us at (312) 269-0200 or (402) 951-9330, or complete our online intake form. We look forward to your inquiry.