Illinois Equal Pay Act

Governor Blagojevich signed the Illinois Equal Pay Act into law on May 11, 2003. The Act becomes effective on January 1, 2004.

The Act is similar to the federal Equal Pay Act and prohibits gender-based wage discrimination. The Act also provides employees with broad rights to inquire about and share wage information – information that most private employers view as strictly confidential. The Act also gives employees the right to sue for damages, it provides for civil penalties, and it imposes additional posting and record-keeping requirements on the employer.

The Act covers public and private employers with four or more employees and prohibits employers from paying men and women at different rates for (1) the same or substantially similar work, (2) on jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and (3) that is performed under “similar working conditions.” The Act permits wage differentials provided under a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a differential based on any factor other than gender or another protected classification under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Act also prohibits retaliation against employees who assert a claim or assist in an investigation or proceeding under the Act.

The Act prohibits employers from “interfering” with the exercise of an employee’s rights under the Act. The Act also prohibits employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against any individual for inquiring about, disclosing, comparing, or otherwise discussing the wages of any employee, or aiding or encouraging others to assert their rights under the Act.

The Illinois Department of Labor has authority to enforce the Act. The Act requires that employers post a notice prepared by the Illinois DOL regarding the Act and maintain certain employment records for three years. Employees may bring a private civil action to recover any underpayment, interest, costs, and attorneys’ fees. Employees who are discharged in violation of the Act also may recover “legal and equitable relief appropriate to effectuate the purposes of the Act,” front pay, back pay, lost benefits, and liquidated damages. The Act also provides that violators may be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500 “per violation. The statute of limitations is three years.

Illinois employers should review their policies regarding disclosure of wage information, develop an action plan to address inquiries for information, and review their job descriptions to ensure that each position’s duties are clearly described. The compensation paid to employees with apparently similar jobs should be carefully reviewed.