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Increased Penalties for Violations of the Illinois Equal Pay Act

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Increased Penalties for Violations of the Illinois Equal Pay Act

Enacted in 2003, the Illinois Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for any employer, public or private, to pay men and women unequal wages based purely on difference in gender. Male and female employees with equal job skills, responsibilities, and effort under similar working conditions must be paid comparable wages.

While the original iteration of the law provided moderate penalties for violations of the Equal Pay Act, a 2016 update has increased penalties and expanded the types of businesses that must comply with the statute. Both employers and employees should be aware of the changes as regulators look to enforce compliance with the Act.

How big are the fines for unequal pay allegations in Illinois?

Under HB3619, all businesses must now pay men and women with equal jobs skills appropriately for the same work. Previously, only businesses with four or more employees were subject to the Act’s provisions. First-time fines for companies with less than four employees cannot exceed $500, second offenses cannot exceed $2,500, and third and subsequent offenses cannot exceed $5,000.

Now, businesses with four or more employees may be subject to more substantial penalties if allegations of unequal pay due to gender are true. First time offenses may incur a fine of $2,500, second offenses $3,000, and third and subsequent offenses top out at $5,000.

To determine the size of the fine, the Illinois Department of Labor will examine the size of the company and the gravity of the allegation. Theoretically, smaller business or those with minor differences in pay based on gender would be subject to less substantial fine while the inverse would be true for larger companies or those with especially egregious allegations.

Unequal pay lawsuits

The law allows employees to bring civil claims against their employers to recover the difference in their pay, interest on back wages, and reasonable attorneys fees incurred to recover the income. The Illinois Department of Labor may also step in to aid the plaintiff’s suit but plaintiffs are strongly encouraged to retain experienced legal counsel.

If you are an employee or an employer facing issues over unequal pay based on gender, contact the experienced Chicago employment attorneys of Goldman & Ehrlich. Our office represents clients throughout Chicago and Cook County as well as Lake County, DuPage County, Will County, Kane County, and McHenry County.

New Changes to Illinois Non-Compete Clauses

The state of Illinois has recently signed new legislation giving more rights to lower wage Illinois workers when they leave their jobs to seek employment elsewhere. On January 01, 2017, the Illinois Freedom to Work Act will go into effect, making non-compete clauses for low income workers illegal in the private sector.

The language of the law explicitly states employers may not enter into a “covenant not to compete with any low-wage employee of the employer.” The bill defines “covenant not to compete” as:

  • Any work for another employer for a specified period of time;
  • Any work in a specified geographical area; or
  • Work for another employer that is similar to such low-wage employee’s work for the employer included as a party to the agreement.

The Act further defines “low wage employee” as:

An employee who earns the greater of (1) the hourly rate equal to the minimum wage required by the applicable federal, state, or local minimum wage law or (2) $13.00 per hour.

Illinois public policy on non-compete clauses

The new law comes in the wake of the Illinois Attorney General filing lawsuits against Jimmy John’s sandwich shop for imposing two-year non-compete clauses on employees who make their sandwiches. Under those non-compete clauses, the low-wage earners could not work for any other sandwich shop within three-miles of a Jimmy John’s location.

The Illinois AG filed suit on behalf of the workers because of the state’s public policy on non-compete holds the agreements are only valid if they are “premised on a legitimate business interest and narrowly tailored in terms of time, activity and place.” The new law is an extension of this policy and helps to clarify some of the ambiguity about how these clauses can be constructed to comply with the law.

It should be noted that the Act does not mention limitations on other types of post-employment restrictions including non-disclosure and non-solicit agreements. Non-disclosure agreements would bar former employees from disclosing sensitive company information while non-solicitation clauses would prevent former employees from using sales lists or other customer information gathered by the previous employer in the pursuit of their own financial interests.

Reach out to us for help

If you have questions about state or local employment laws, contact us online or call our office at 312.332.6733 for a consultation about your case. The Chicago employment lawyers of Goldman & Ehrlich have years of experience helping both employers and workers with their employment issues.

Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act Into Law

In a year filled with more robust protections and benefits to workers, Illinois has passed a new law, the Employee Sick Leave Act, which now allows employees more flexibility to use their accrued sick time. Starting January 01, 2017, any employer that provides paid sick time to their staff must allow employees to use the time to take care of sick family members.

The Act’s language states “personal sick leave benefits” that provide paid time off for an illness, injury or medical appointment may now be used by the employee to care for their child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent for the same circumstances.

Limits to Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act

Although the law is a significant step forward for workers’ rights, there are limitations to the Act that both employees and employers should be aware of. First and foremost, the Act does not mandate employers offer paid time to their workers for injury, illness, or a medical appointment. Only those businesses already offering paid sick time must comply with the act.

Second, employers can limit the amount of time employees can use towards the care of a sick or injured relative. Employers may choose to limit the employee’s time off to care for a family member to only half of their total sick leave.

Furthermore, the Act does not extend the amount of time employees can take off under the Family Medical Leave Act, which already gives unpaid time off to employees to care for family members. Employers who already provide paid time off to care for family members will not need to make any changes to the policies already in place.

What employers need to know about the Act

Employers need to be aware the Act has anti-retaliation provisions to protect workers. The act makes it illegal to retaliate against or intimidate workers who choose to exercise their rights under the Illinois Employee Sick Act.

Additionally, businesses cannot retaliate against workers alleging violations of the Act or cooperate in any investigations looking into alleged violations. This includes filing complaints with the Illinois Department of Labor.

Cook County employment lawyers can help you

Whether you are an employee or employer, the Cook County employment lawyers of Goldman & Ehrlich can help you with your employment law issues. Contact us online or call our office at 312.332.6733 for a consultation about your case and let us put our experience to work for you.