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 $10.00 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.
Cook County commissioners adopted the law by a 13-3 vote Wednesday, despite an opinion from the state’s attorney’s office saying it was beyond the county’s legal authority.
Suburban Republican commissioners Gregg Goslin, Tim Schneider and Sean Morrison voted against it. Fellow suburban Republican Peter Silvestri voted present.
Municipalities have until July, 2017 to decide whether to opt out.
Business owners in Cook County may see an increase in their expenditures due to the newly passed ordinance. The law would require businesses to give full-time and part-time employees 40 hours of sick leave as long as they work at least 80 hours in a 120-day period.
The plan makes it harder for many business owners to make ends meet. Many business owners have voiced their concerns over the proposed law. Many say the ordinance shouldn’t have been passed in the first place.
Home-rule communities like Schiller Park, Norridge, Rosemont, and others in Norwood Park and Leyden Townships have the authority to automatically opt out if they choose. But even non-home-rule villages like Franklin Park may have the right to opt out. The Illinois Constitution allows non-home-rule municipalities to enact laws that supersede those of home-rule counties.
Rosemont’s village board formally opted out of new Cook County rules mandating businesses pay employees for sick days and higher minimum wages in December, 2016.
Barrington also opted out of the rules, and other Northwest suburbs have said they are drafting similar ordinances.
It is best for local governments not to get involved, leaving those decisions up to the state and federal governments.
If businesses want to pay employees more, they can. If they want to pay paid sick days, they can, but local government should not be adopting legislation that will chase businesses from one town to another.
I believe that the Cook County ordinance is well-intended, but it could very well have unintended consequences with our business community in Leyden and Norwood Park Townships, like moving businesses to DuPage County. Doing such piecemeal legislation always has unintended consequences, and this should really be a statewide issue.
I urge the villages and cities of Norwood Park and Leyden Townships to opt out of the Cook County ordinance. I would encourage the township boards to pass resolutions urging such an opt out of local municipalities. The regulation of wages and sick time for uniformity purposes should be considered at the federal and state government levels.
The communities of Leyden and Norwood Park Townships need to opt out of the Cook County ordinance before July 1, 2017, to keep their communities competitive in the business environment.