Illinois lawmakers recently expanded the state’s Equal Pay Act to include all employers in the state, regardless of their size. It previously only applied to employers with more than three employees, leaving workers in small businesses with no recourse against unequal pay. The amendment, which passed in the state legislature in September, goes into effect in January of 2016. From that date forward, businesses with three or fewer workers will be bound by the mandates of the Equal Pay Act, giving victims of workplace discrimination the right to take legal recourse.
What the Law Says
Under the Equal Pay Act, it is now unlawful to pay one employee less than another employee working the same or a substantially similar job that is performed under similar working conditions and requires comparable skill, effort and responsibility. Covered employers include partnerships, corporations, individuals, trusts and other entities.
The Act also prohibits:
- Unequal pay between genders, unless the differential is based on seniority or merit system;
- Unequal pay to any member of a federally protected classification.
The Illinois Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces the act. Potential penalties for violations include:
- Legal fines of up to $2,500 per proven violation. This amount will increase to $5,000 when the new amendment takes effect in January 2016;
- Employers with fewer than four employees can face a $500 fine for an initial offense up to $5000 in fines for a third or subsequent offense;
- Employers with four or more employees can face penalties ranging from $2500 for the initial offense up to $5000 for a third or subsequent offense.
- Payment of the wage difference to the complaining employee, in addition to interest, costs and attorney’s fees.
Gender Pay Gap in Illinois
According to reports, the state of Illinois ranks 35th nationwide for the pay gap between the genders. Currently, women in the state earn an average of $0.79 for every dollar earned by men. While the average yearly salary for men in the state is $51,510, the average annual income for women is $40,679. These gaps can translate into significant financial difficulties for women and their families, especially single mothers.
The Annual Association of University Women (AAUW) suggests that individual companies can help remedy these differences by providing female employees with wages that are comparable to those of male employees. Organizations should periodically review the wages paid to their employees to identify and correct any inequitable pay among genders. This is not only beneficial to the individual employees, but it can potentially save companies from expensive lawsuits in the future.
For employees, the AAUW suggests that they immediately inform their employer when pay inequalities are discovered. They should also document attempted conversations with the employer and all attempts to correct the issue. This information could be important evidence if the case goes to court.
Work with a Chicago Workplace Discrimination Attorney
If you feel that you received unequal payment at work, contact an experienced, knowledgeable workplace discrimination attorney. Call the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline today to schedule a review of your claim.