Nov 22, 2016

Cook County adopts living wage ordinance, effective July 1, 2017, gradually raising the minimum wage to $13 per hour by July 1, 2020

Cook County joins the City of Chicago in passing the Cook County Living Wage Ordinance which puts in place a gradual step increase in the minimum wage for covered employees in Cook County. The Ordinance was passed on Oct. 5, 2016. The first of the minimum wage increases will be effective on July 1, 2017.

Who is a covered employee?

If you work for an employer and are physically present and working within the geographic boundaries of Cook County for up to two hours each week in a particular two-week time period, you are eligible for the increased minimum wage. Time spent traveling in Cook County, e.g., making deliveries or sales calls, or traveling to other business activity taking place within Cook County, counts toward the two hour limit; simply commuting to work through Cook County does not. It is not wholly clear whether the rate of pay for the same employee working outside of Cook County in a different pay period will be subject to this minimum wage increase. Accordingly, if a covered employee only occasionally travels to Cook County for business, the employee might be subject to more than one minimum pay rate.

Who is an employer?

An employer must maintain a business facility within the geographic boundaries of Cook County and/or be subject to one or more of the license requirements in Title 4 of the Code of Ordinances. An employer only needs to employ one covered employee.

When is the pay increase effective?

The first pay increase for covered employees will be effective on July 1, 2017.

What are the step increases for the minimum wage?

Presently, the Illinois minimum wage statewide is $8.25 per hour, but the minimum wage in the City of Chicago is $10.50 per hour. Under the Cook County Living Wage Ordinance, the minimum wage for employees in Cook County will be gradually increased as follows (Chicago’s increases are in the parentheses):

July 1, 2017 - $10 per hour ($11 per hour)

July 1, 2018 - $11 per hour ($12 per hour)

July 1, 2019 - $12 per hour ($13 per hour)

July 1, 2020 - $13 per hour

Thereafter, starting on July 1, 2021, there will be increases in accord with the Consumer Price Index.

Are there exceptions?

Certainly, there are exceptions. For instance, this Ordinance does not apply to any government entity other than Cook County and communities with Home Rule, like Chicago, may pass their own ordinances. In addition, this Ordinance is designed not to interfere with the rights of employees to collectively bargain with their employers to establish wages and other conditions of work in excess of the applicable standards of this Ordinance.

What notice is required?

The executive director of Cook County Commission on Human Rights will be preparing sample notices to post in conspicuous places and to include with an employee’s first paycheck. Employers that do not maintain a business facility within the geographic boundaries of Cook County and households that serve as worksites for domestic workers are exempt from the posting requirement. The notices are not yet available.

Which agency will enforce the new Ordinance and what are the penalties?

The new Ordinance will be enforced by the Cook County Commission on Human Rights. If an employer violates the Ordinance, it can be liable for three times the value of the unpaid wages, plus interest, costs and attorneys’ fees. In addition, any employer who violates this Ordinance shall be subject to a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000 for each offense. Each day that a violation continues is regarded as a separate and distinct offense. Covered employees also have a private right of action, meaning that they can file a civil action and seek to recover the treble damages, costs and attorneys’ fees. Finally, an employer (and a substantial owner as defined in the Ordinance) that violates this Ordinance will be deemed ineligible to enter into contracts with Cook County for a period of five years from the date of conviction, entry of plea, administrative finding or admission of guilt.

Retaliation is prohibited.

The Ordinance makes it unlawful for any employer to discriminate or take any adverse action against a covered employee in retaliation for exercising any right under this Ordinance. This adverse action includes unjustified termination, denial of assignments and other acts of harassment.

If you would like more information on this new law or other employment matters, please contact one of Chuhak & Tecson’s Employment attorneys.

This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.

Client alert authored by: Jeralyn H. Baran, Principal