As of May 1, 2015, businesses that hope to work with Cook County better ensure they have no wage violation findings against them. The new Cook County Wage Theft Ordinance became effective that date which allows the County to refuse to do business with any business that has been found in violation of state or federal wage payment laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, the Illinois Employee Classification Act as well any other state or federal wage laws.
The stakes are pretty high for employers who seek County business. Under the new ordinance, anyone who has admitted to or been found liable of repeated wage violations in court or by an administrative body in the prior five years, will be not only barred from entering into a contract with Cook County, but cannot even respond to a RFP or submit a bid to the County. Other penalties include the business being ineligible to receive a business license or a property tax incentive (if it is located in Cook County). While the ordinance has the greatest impact of Cook County businesses who are located in the County, its application is not limited to Cook County businesses.
Going forward, businesses seeking a contract with or business license from Cook County must attest, under oath, that they have not been found liable of repeated wage violations during the prior five years. While it is unclear how exactly the County will monitor or enforce this ordinance, it serves as a great incentive for businesses whom regularly work with Cook County, or hope to do so, to ensure that their pay practices comply with the law.
While some may say that the ordinance merely reflects what is generally believed to be pro-labor
sentiment from Cook County elected officials (it passed with a unanimous vote), the ordinance may be just another indicator of the increasing focus on wage issues. The City of Chicago passed a similar ordinance in 2013 and other municipalities across the nation have or are considering similar local laws.