Cook County Does It Again

Cook County, in many ways, leads the country in extending laws which can be said to protect workers. While employers may certainly debate the worthiness of these various laws, they continue to be passed. By way of example, recently Cook County passed a law requiring employers to grant vacation days to their workers. However, even more recently Cook County passed an ordinance called the Starting Wage Ordinance which goes into effect on July 1, 2017.

Beginning July 1, 2017, workers in Cook County are required to be paid a starting wage of $10.00 per hour. From July 1, 2018, and every year thereafter through July 1, 2020, the starting wage will increase $1.00 per hour per year. On July 1, 2021, in addition to rising by another $1.00 per hour, the starting wage will go up by the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) which is capped at 2.5%. Every year thereafter, commencing July 1, 2022, the starting wage will increase by the CPI.

As to tipped employees, immediately upon passage of the ordinance, or now, tipped employees in Cook County must be paid $4.95 plus $1.00 per hour. Beginning July 1, 2017, this starting wage becomes $4.95 plus the CPI.

Notwithstanding these increases, should the unemployment rate in Cook County be equal to or greater than 8.5% then there would be no increase. This would make sense from an economic standpoint: if employers are unable to hire workers, then there is no point in having them be assured of a certain wage.

There are some exemptions to the ordinance and to whom it applies. Employees that are in training are only required to be paid Illinois’ training wage of $7.75 per hour for their first 90 days of employment. Minors under the age of 18 can be paid the Illinois’ teen wage of $7.75 per hour during their employment. Additionally, the State Director has the ability to determine a lower wage for persons with certain deficiencies and learners.

Finally, in recognition of the many unionized workers in Cook County, the ordinance has no effect on current collective bargaining agreements but the starting rate implement by the ordinance will probably be used as a starting point in the negotiation of future collective bargaining agreements.

Under the ordinance, employers must provide notice to each of its employees regarding the enactment of the ordinance by posting the information and also by putting the information in each employee’s first paycheck when the starting wage goes into effect or changes. The ordinance will be enforced by the Cook County Commission on Human Rights which has the ability to levy fines against employers in a minimum amount of $500 and a maximum amount of $1,000 for each violation of the ordinance. Further, employees have a private right of action against, or can sue, their employers who are in violation of the ordinance in which they can seek treble, or triple damages, against their employers for violations of the ordinance.

Employers applying for a license or tax exemption in Cook County must verify they are in compliance with the ordinance. Should an employer not be in compliance with the ordinance, they can be barred from entering into a contract with Cook County for a period of five years.

Employers are advised to take whatever action is necessary to be in compliance with this new ordinance both now, for tipped workers, and beginning July 1, 2017, when the starting wage provisions go into effect. As set forth in the ordinance, the penalties for non-compliance can be severe. If you have questions regarding this ordinance, please feel free to contact me at lziebell@lavellelaw.com or 847-705-7555.