Chicago Wage & Hour Attorneys
Helping workers throughout Illinois secure their fair wages and overtime pay
The rallying cry of workers throughout American history has been for a full and fair day’s pay for every full and fair day’s work. While the meaning of “fair” has changed, the basics of employment contracts have not: you agree to do the work, and your employer agrees to pay you for it. When that employer tries to change the rules, and deny you your fair overtime wage, Gainsberg Law is here to help. Our Chicago wage and hour attorneys represent workers whose rights have been violated. Contact us today to learn more about our services.
What is a wage and hour violation?
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you are guaranteed certain rights when it comes to your wages, such as the right to earn the minimum wage, the right to equal pay, and the right to overtime pay. The FLSA is a federal law, but Illinois also has its own laws that dictate workers’ rights to a fair wage. If your employers break these laws and violate your rights, you can file a complaint and seek compensation through the justice system.
Can a Chicago employer pay less than minimum wage?
Generally, no: there is a federal minimum wage that all employers must pay. Otherwise, they are in violation of the FLSA. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
States are allowed to increase the minimum wage, but they cannot go below the federal minimum. Illinois is currently in the process of raising its minimum wage. The Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) has issued this chart of minimum wage increases through 2025:
|Year||Minimum Wage||Tipped||Youths (under 18) (working less than 650 hours per calendar year)|
Exceptions to the minimum wage rule
As you can see in the chart above, there are two exceptions to the minimum wage rule: tipped workers, and minor-age workers. Tipped workers must make 60% of minimum wage, with their tips making up the rest of the hourly wage. If, with tips, they still do not make minimum wage, employers are required to make up the rest of the wages.
Youth workers may also be paid less than minimum wage. Under the FLSA, workers under the age of 20 can be paid $4.25 an hour for the first consecutive 90 days; after that, their wages must be increased to minimum wage. IDOL chose to drop the age to 18, and requires about 81 days of work (650 hours) before the wage is raised. As such, a high school junior who works part time as a retail clerk over summer break can be paid less than minimum wage.
Finally, “employers may apply for licenses to pay sub-minimum rates to learners and certain workers with physical and mental limitations.” This license is important; if the employer has not applied and received the license, and still pays people with disabilities less money, then the employer can be sued for discrimination.
I’ve been denied equal pay. What can I do?
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that employees be paid equally for equal work, regardless of sex. The work must be “substantially equal” in terms of skills, responsibility, and effort, and a workers’ pay can encompass more than just wages, such as:
- Overtime pay
- Stock options
- Profit sharing
- Insurance plans
- Vacation and PTO
- Additional perks such as memberships, travel expenses, and so forth
The EPA only deals with sex discrimination, so if you have been denied equal pay because of another reason, such as your race, religion, age, etc., you would need to file a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
Why EPA claims require an employment attorney
Because the EPA states that “pay” does not necessarily have to come in the form of wages, it can be a challenge to make a claim. What you have on your side is the “substantially equal” clause of the Act, which means that you do not have to prove that two jobs are the same in order to make your claim.
For example, let’s assume Jane and John work in different departments for the ABC Widget Company. Both Jane and John bring the same years of experience to the roll, manage a team of five people, handle scheduling for employee hours, and make budgetary decisions.
However, John’s title is “Director of Widget Production,” whereas Jane’s title is “Lead Widgeter.” If john is paid more than Jane, despite having substantially equal job duties as well as backgrounds, Jane should file a claim – but because their titles are different, she may face pushback if she tries to make the claim on her own. An employment attorney can help by collecting the necessary documentation and proof that Jane is being denied her fair pay, and represent her in court if she chooses to file a lawsuit.
When are you entitled to overtime pay?
Under state and federal law, you have the right to earn one and one-half times your hourly pay for any hour you work over 40. If you are paid $10 and hour and work 40 hours, you earned $400. However, if you are paid $10 an hour and work 45 hours, you should earn $15 an hour for those hours over your regular 40-hour work week. It breaks down like this:
40 hrs x $10 = $400
5 hrs x $15 = $75
45 hrs = $475
Exemptions under federal law
Under the FLSA, certain employees are exempt from receiving over time pay. These employees must be salaried workers who earn no less than $684 a week (with two exceptions), though bonuses and incentives may make up to 10% of that required minimum salary. There are five categories for exemptions:
- Professional exemption. There are two sub-categories for this exemption. To qualify as a learned professional, the “employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.” The employee’s advanced knowledge “must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction” in the field of science or learning. The creative professional exemption applies to those whose “primary duty must be the performance of work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.” Teachers, dancers, and scientists would all fall under the professional exemption.
- Administrative exemption. This exemption applies to salaried professionals whose “primary duty must be the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers; and… includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.” This exemption may apply to individuals who work in payroll or Human Resources, or in marketing.
- Executive exemption. This applies to those employees whose “primary duty must be managing the enterprise, or managing a customarily recognized department or subdivision of the enterprise,” who can either hire, fire, promote, and/or demote employees (or whose opinion is given greater weight), and who “must customarily and regularly direct the work” of at least two full-time employees (or their equivalent. These are company CEOs, Directors, heads of HR, and other managing positions.
- Outside sales exemption. This exemption applies to employees who work primarily outside of the office, and whose work includes “making sales (as defined in the FLSA), or obtaining orders or contracts for services or for the use of facilities for which a consideration will be paid by the client or customer.” Outside salespeople can be salaried or work on commission, and there is no minimum weekly pay required.
- Computer exemption. To be eligible for this exemption, the employee “must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer or other similarly skilled worker in the computer field” with a specific set of skills. These employees must meet the minimum threshold of $684 a week, but can be salaried employees, hourly employees, or fee-based employees.
Exemptions under Illinois law
Illinois has the same five categories of employee exemptions; but also includes a specific list of job titles which are exempt from overtime pay. Per the non-profit organization Workplace Fairness, those titles include:
- “Salesmen and mechanics involved in selling or servicing cars, trucks or farm implements at dealerships
- Government employees
- Radio or television station employees in certain cities
- Participants in work place exchange agreements
- Educational or residential child care institution employees
- Commissioned employees”
What are common wage and hour violations by Chicago employers?
Despite the strict laws put in place to ensure that people are paid a fair wage, some employees still have their rights violated. The most common wage and hour violations include:
- Misclassification of employees are contractors
- Miscategorization of employees are “exempt” based on job title, and not job duties
- Forcing employees to work off-the-clock
- Forcing employees to work before or after their shifts start (also known as “donning and doffing” claims
- Failing to compensate employees for meal breaks
- Forcing unpaid interns to do the work of paid employees
- Denying proper compensation to telecommuting employees
- Purposely misapplying the “half time” rules applicable for fluctuating workweeks
- Illegally withholding or diverting wages
- Failing to make up additional compensation for tipped wage earners
- Miscalculating hourly wages
- Failing to pay bonuses or commissions
- Making unauthorized deductions from your pay
Why should I hire a Chicago wage and hour attorney to handle my case?
If your employer has wrongfully denied your fair pay or overtime, hiring an attorney may be your best recourse for recovering the compensation you are owed. We know the laws and the loopholes that employers try to use to their advantage. We make sure that your documentation is correct, complete, and sent where it needs to go.
We also make sure that your money and your time are spent wisely. In some cases, you may be better off simply making a claim with the Illinois Department of Labor; in other cases, you may need to file an employment lawsuit against your employer. During a free, initial consultation, a Chicago wage and hour attorney from Gainsberg Law can discuss these options with you, so you can make an informed decision about what to do next.
Fighting for Illinois workers who have been denied their rightful pay
Denied overtime? Asked to work without pay? Classified as an independent contractor but doing the work of an employee? Gainsberg Law will fight on your behalf. To schedule a consultation with a Chicago wage and hour lawyer, please fill out our contact form or call 312-600-9585 to schedule a consultation.