Following the lead of the City of Chicago and other municipalities nationwide, on October 26, 2016, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to gradually increase the minimum wage in Cook County to $13 per hour by July of 2020. The ordinance applies to any business or individual that employs at least one “employee” who performs at least two hours of work in any two-week period while physically present within the geographical boundaries of Cook County, with very few exceptions. The new law applies to the all of Cook County, including unincorporated areas. However, home-rule towns can vote to opt out of the increase.
Effective July 1, 2017, employers in Cook County will be required to pay a higher minimum wage that will continue to increase every year thereafter. Cook County’s ordinance is similar to the City of Chicago’s minimum wage increase, which also gradually raises the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2019. The following provides the graduated scale of the increases under the ordinance:
• July 1, 2017 – the minimum wage will increase from $8.25 to $11.00 per hour.
• July 1, 2018 – the minimum wage will increase from $10.00 to $11.00 per hour.
• July 1, 2019 – the minimum wage will increase from $11.00 to $12.00 per hour.
• July 1, 2020 – the minimum wage will increase from $12.00 to $13.00 per hour.
• July 1, 2021 and every July 1 thereafter – the minimum wage will increase in proportion to the increase in the CPI, not to exceed 2.5% in any year.
It should be noted that on July 1, 2021 and thereafter, the ordinance provides that the minimum wage will not increase when the unemployment rate in Chicago for the preceding year, as calculated by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, was equal to or greater than 8.5 percent. What is more, Tipped workers who make $4.95 under Illinois law will not see a wage increase until July 1, 2018, and these wage increases will increase in proportion to the increase in the CPI, not to exceed 2.5% in any year.
Section 42-12 of the ordinance provides several categories of exceptions in which employers are not required to pay the minimum wage, which are as follows:
1. Employees taking part in government-subsidized temporary youth employment programs.
2. Employees taking part in government-subsidized transitional employment programs.
3. Employees of any governmental entity other than the County.
4. Certain employees exempted under the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, including: (a) Employees under 18 years of age. Employers are authorized to pay these employees a wage 50 cents below the state minimum hourly wage; and (b) Adult employees over 18 years of age in the first 90 days of employment. Employers are authorized to pay these employees a wage no more than $0.50 below the state minimum wage.
In addition to raising the minimum wage, the ordinance establishes additional obligations for Cook County employers. More specifically, Cook County employers will be required to comply with certain notice provisions. Employers will be required to (1) conspicuously post at each facility within Cook County a notice advising employees of their rights under the ordinance; and (2) providing employees written notice advising employees of their rights under the ordinance with their first paycheck issued after July 1, 2017. The ordinance also provides that employers may not discriminate or take any adverse action against any covered employee in retaliation for exercising any right covered under the ordinance.
The ordinance charges the Cook County Human Rights Commission with the responsibility of enforcement. The ordinance also provides significant penalties for non-compliance and expressly creates a cause of action against an employer who underpays its employees. In particular, any affected employee may recover damages in the amount equal to three times the full amount of any such underpayment, along with costs and attorneys’ fees. Moreover, the penalties for noncompliance are steep, as each day of noncompliance is a separate offense with civil penalties of $500 to $1,000. Additionally, failing to properly pay could subject an employer to various other laws such as the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, and the Illinois Wage Payment Collection Act, all of which provide for damages, interest and attorney’s fees.
Please contact us with any questions you may have regarding coverage and compliance with the ordinance.