Understanding the Illinois Equal Pay Act

The Illinois Equal Pay Act (the “Act”) prohibits any employer, regardless of size, from paying unequal wages to men and women where they perform the same or substantially similar work. This is true regardless of the job title given to the male or female worker. There are exceptions to the equal pay requirement where wages may be unequal based on a seniority system, a merit system, systems based on a per piece or quantity basis, or for other reasons which are not based on gender.

If an individual believes they are being paid on an unequal basis, he or she has two options: file a claim with the Illinois Department of Labor (the “Department”) or file a separate lawsuit. If the employee files a complaint with the Department, it must be filed within one year of the underpayment which results from a violation of the Act. Once filed with the Illinois Department, the Department has the authority to investigate the claim and order the employer to pay the employee the wage differential and civil penalties which vary depending on the size of the employer and number of violations for which the employer has previously been found liable. If the employee files a lawsuit, it must be filed within five years of the underpayment. In a lawsuit, the employee may be entitled to all sums underpaid, interest, and attorney’s fees. In either case, it is important to note civil liability may be imposed against not just the employing company, but potentially its officers and agents as well.

There are several other notable provisions of the Act. One important provision is the anti-retaliation provision of the Act which prevents an employer from retaliating against an employee who files a claim under the Act. As opposed to damages being limited to the amount of underpayment as with a regular claim under the Act, the anti-retaliation provision of the Act provides an employee may be entitled to the value of any lost benefits, back pay, and front pay. As with any other damages award, the employee must show he or she attempted to mitigate his or her damages.

Finally, the Act imposes record keeping requirements on employers. Under the Act, employers must keep records showing its employees’ names, addresses, occupations, and wages paid to each employee. These records are in addition to, or in coordination with, other Illinois’ wage statutes.

Because the Act applies to employers of any size in Illinois, it is imperative Illinois’ employers have policies and practices in place that prevent them from paying unequal wages. If you need further information regarding the Act, please feel free to contact the attorneys at Lavelle Law at (847) 705-7555.