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Labor and Employment Resources

Workplace Issues

Workplace Discrimination

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Race, Color, Religion, National Origin, or Sex (including Pregnancy, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal under Federal law for an employer to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation). Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee because the employee complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discriminati​on investigation or lawsuit.  The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants' and employees' sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.​​ Most employers with at least 15 employees are required to comply with Title VII (20 in the case of age discrimination). 

​​Discrimination based on these factors is further prohibited under Illinois state law by the Illinois Human Rights Act, within Cook County by the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance, and within the City of Chicago pursuant to the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance​. ​

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are age 40 or older from discrimination based on age. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.​​​

Discrimination based on age is further prohibited under Illinois state law by the Illinois Human Rights Act, within Cook County by the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance, and within the City of Chicago pursuant to the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance​​​​

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Disability

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) ​makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.​​​

Discrimination based on disability is further prohibited under Illinois state law by the Illinois Human Rights Act, within Cook County by the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance, and within the City of Chicago pursuant to the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance​​​

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Other Factors

In addition to the protected classes already mentioned, the following laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of additional factors:


Illinois Human Rights Act​:  Ancestry, order of protection status, military status, unfavorable discharge from military service


Cook County Human Rights Ordinance​:  Ancestry, parental status, military discharge status, source of income, housing status


Chicago Human Rights Ordinance:  Credit history, criminal history, marital status, parental status, military status, source of income​​​

What type of acts may constitute unlawful discrimination?

Discriminatory acts by an employer may include any of the following actions taken against an employee due to the employee's membership in a protected class:

  • Refusal to hire;

  • Discipline;

  • Termination;

  • Denying training;

  • Failing to promote;

  • Paying less or demoting; or

  • Harassing;

In addition, discrimination may include adopting a policy or practice that has a "disparate impact" on a protected class. 

What Can I Do if I Believe My Employer Discriminated Against Me?

  1. Start by speaking with your employer about the issue​.  Pursue any available internal processes intended to address discriminatory conduct.

  2. If such efforts fail, you may wish to consider filing a formal complaint with a Federal, state, or local government agency. Remedies available to you through these processes may include monetary damages, injunctive relief (court orders), and/or attorney fees.​

  3. Review the following table to determine which agency is responsible for enforcing the laws applicable to your situation: Where to File an Employment Discrimination Complaint in Cook County

  4. After identifying the appropriate agency(ies), review the agency website and closely follow the proceedures outlined for preparing and filing a complaint. In particular, make certain to report any unfair treatment within the agency's specified time limit (see below). 

  5. Consider consulting an attorney who can assist you with preparing and filing formal complaints.  Please visit a SLS attorney during our regular drop-in hours to request a referral. ​​ 

Agency time limits:

Unemployment Insurance Benefits 

How much money does the State of Illinois pay for Unemployment Benefits?

Benefit amounts are determined ​on a case by case basis. The minimum payment for someone eligible is $51 per week. An eligiblie applicant with dependents and a spouse who does not work may receive up to $580 per week. ​

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment insurance is a state-operated insurance program designed to partially replace lost wages when you are out of work.  Like fire, accident, health and other types of insurance, it is for an emergency: when you are temporarily or permanently out of a job, or if you work less than full time because of lack of work. The program ensures that, if you meet the eligibility requirements​​ of the law, you will have some income while you are looking for a job, up to a maximum of 26 full weeks in a one-year period, depending on when the claim was​ established.  ​​

How to apply for unemployment benefits

 

1. Prepare and gather information

Regardless of the circumstances, after your job ends, gather any and all information or paperwork you have related to the entire time you worked for your employer. Regardless of why you became unemployed, you may need to use or provide this information to be considered for unemployment benefits.

You should find and organize these documents as soon as possible so that you can try to obtain any additional documents you may need.

Don't assume that your employer is not going to contest your unemployment.

Some examples of information you should find and organize are:

  • Employer addresses

  • Income tax information

  • Information about Social Security, pension, and other benefits you received

For more information on what you might need to see Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) Frequently Asked Questions.

2. Fill out and submit the application

Use the IDES's online application. You will have to create a username and password.

You may also apply for benefits in person at your local IDES office. Typically, you can go to the office that is closest to you. Sometimes there is a long, and many people have complained that these local offices are not helpful or considerate.

3. Wait for IDES's response

After you file your claim, you will receive information from IDES in the mail. If your request for benefits has been approved, you will receive a form titled "UI Claimant Wage Information Sheet." This form will describe your benefits and will list the day that you need to call IDES to certify your benefits. If you do not receive your letter within 3-4 weeks, you should call IDES and find out if a determination has been made regarding your eligibility so that you do not miss your opportunity to appeal if you have been denied benefits.

You may receive a letter from IDES about an adjudication interview. This means that you must speak or meet with someone from IDES to verify that you are eligible for benefits. Most interviews are done over the phone. The letter will give you a date and time for the meeting, and more information about who to contact.

Make sure you do not miss this interview because it will likely result in you being denied benefits and you will then have to appeal. Filing an appeal makes the process harder. If you cannot make the scheduled date, contact the IDES immediately.

4. Certify your claim

Before you begin receiving benefits, you will need to call the IDES "Tele-Serve" system and certify your claim. Certification is how you verify that you are still entitled to benefits.

You will need to provide information to identify yourself and provide any wage information about money you received. You will also need to answer various questions that will determine whether you are still eligible for benefits, including whether you have actively been looking for work. You are required to seek employment to be entitled to continue to receive benefits. You should keep a log of the jobs you have applied for and the status of any employment applications.

For more information on the certifications process, go to IDES'sI Filed My Claim - What Happens Now?

5. If you are denied benefits, consider appealing the decision

If IDES determines that you are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits you can, and in most cases should appeal this decision.

The letter you receive from IDES explains the appeal process. It is strongly suggested that you consult with an attorney that has experience with unemployment appeals to discuss your situation, as there is a lot of money at stake if you are found ineligible to receive benefits. For more information on appealing, see Appealing an unemployment benefits decision.

6. Keep looking for work while you receive unemployment benefits

IDES requires that you keep looking for work while you receive unemployment benefits. You should keep a log of the jobs you have applied for and the status of any employment applications.​​

Can I receive unemployment benefits if I quit my job?

Generally, an employee who voluntarily leaves a job will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, an employee who quits due to "good cause" or a "constructive discharge" may qualify.  For example, an employee who quits due to illegal workplace behavior, such as discrimination, abusive behavior, lack of payment, or a significant reduction in hours, benefits, or pay rate, may still be entitled to receive unemployment benefits. ​​​

Before quitting, you should make reasonable attempts to resolve any problems you are having at work with your employer. If you have an employee handbook, look at it very carefully, and make sure that you have complied with any policies applicable to you. Usually, there is a section in the employee handbook that tells you what to do when you are having problems at work and it is important that you follow the requirements listed in the handbook, especially if you have a potential lawsuit for illegal behavior your employer to​ok.​​

​​​

Can I receive unemployment benefits if I am fired from my job?

You will not be entitled to unemployment benefits if the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) finds that you were fired due to “misconduct.” IDES will determine someone was fired due​ to misconduct if the employer can demonstrate that:​

  • The employee's actions constituted a violation of a reasonable rule or policy of the employer;

  • The employee's actions were willful and deliberate;

  • The employee had been warned of the possibility of termination; and

  • The employee's actions were harmful to the employer. 

​​

How to receive free legal assistance with your unemployment benefits claim

IDES contracts with private law firms to provide limited free legal services (consultation and/or representation at IDES administrative hearings) to claimants and small employers who are eligible for this service. These independent law firms are not part of IDES. Representation at your hearing is not automatic and depends, in part, upon the facts in your case.

If you are interested in this legal service, call the applicable telephone number right away after receiving a ruling against you or notice of an appeal. Any delay in calling could result in your not being able to obtain this service. Normal working hours are from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00p.m., Monday through Friday.

Claimants:  
(SSN ending with 0-4) (SSN ending with 5-9)
Toll-Free: (800) 884-6591 Toll-Free: (888) 430-1776
Out of State: (847) 991-9240 Phone: (847) 251-1776
TTY: (866) 848-5609 TTY: (847) 251-6985
   
Small Employers:  
(UI Acct. No. ending with 0-4) (UI Acct. No. ending with 5-9)
Toll-Free: (866) 641-4288 Toll-Free: (877) 849-2007
TTY: (312) 641-6403 TTY: (866) 802-8732

Note: A small employer is an employer which reported wages paid to less than twenty individuals, whether part time or full time, for each of any two of the four calendar quarters preceding the quarter in which its application for legal assistance is made.​

Covenants Not to Compete

What is a Covenant Not to Compete?

A covenant not to compete (also known as a "non-compete") is a legal agreement between an employer and employee that takes effect after the employment relationship ends. The agreement typically includes one or more of the following terms:

  • The employee is restricted from working for the employer's competitors.

  • The employee is restricted from contacting the employer's customers. 

  • The employee is restricted from working in a certain field, within a certain geographic radius of the employer's place of business. 

Are Non-Compete Agreements Enforceable?

Generally, yes.  In Illinois, courts will covenants not to compete will be binding so long as they are reasonable in duration and scope. 

For example, an agreement stating that an employee may not work for a direct competitor located within 25 miles of the employer's offices for a period of 12 months would likely be valid, while an agreement permanently prohibiting an employee from ever working for a competitor would not. 

Worker's Compensation

What is Workers' Compensation?

Workers’ compensation is a system of benefits provided to most employees in Illinois who experience work-related injuries or occupational diseases. Workers' compensation is provided pursuant to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act​.  The system is administered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.  The Commission administers the judicial process that resolves disputed workers’ compensation claims between employees and employers.​​

What Injuries are Covered by the Workers' Compensation Act?

The Workers’ Compensation Act provides that accidents that arise out of and in the course of employment are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. This generally means that the Act covers injuries that result in whole or in part from the employee’s work.​

What Benefits Are Provided By Workers' Compensation?

Pursuant to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act, employers may be required to provide the following benefits to employees injured while on the job:
  • ​Medical care that is reasonably required to cure or relieve the employee of the effects of the injury; 

  • Temporary total disability (TTD) benefits while the employee is off work, recovering from the injury; 

  • For injuries that occur on or after February 1, 2006, temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits while the employee is recovering from the injury but working on light duty for less compensation;  

  • Vocational rehabilitation/maintenance benefits are provided to an injured employee who is participating in an approved vocational rehabilitation program; 

  • Permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits for an employee who sustains some permanent disability or disfigurement, but can work; 

  • Permanent total disability (PTD) benefits for an employee who is rendered permanently unable to work; 

  • Death benefits for surviving family members of an employee who dies as a result of a work-related injury. 

Workers’ compensation benefits are not taxable under state or federal law and need not be reported as income on tax returns.​

What Should an Employee do if Injured on the Job?

An employee must notify the employer of an injury before 45 days have passed. If the injury is due to radiological exposure, the employee has up to 90 days to report after learning or suspecting that he/she has been affected.

What Can an Employee do if an Employer Refuses to Provide Workers' Compensation Benefits?

  • If your employer refuses to pay your benefits, you should consider retaining a lawyer and file a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission so that you can request a hearing.
  • To file a claim, prepare an Application for Adjustment of Claim and submit 3 copied, along with a Proof of Service form, to the Commission. (Form available here).
  • You must file a claim within 3 years of the injury or 2 years of the last temporary disability or medical bill payment (whichever is later). Failure to file a timely claim is grounds for denial of benefits. 
  • Consider retaining an attorney to represent you during arbitration. You can represent yourself, but you will bear the responsibility of following your case, arguing your side, and understanding a settlement agreement fully.  You may visit SLS during regular drop-in hours to request an attorney referral. 
  • After you file a claim, you will be assigned a case number and an arbitrator. Your issue will be resolved through arbitration or through a trial, which must be requested by you or the employer at an arbitration meeting. 
  • You can track your case on the Commission's online database
  • If you decide to settle with your employer, be sure to have the agreement in writing for the arbitrator to approve. Keep in mind that if you settle your case, you cannot claim any future rights in workers' compensation from that employer for that accident. This is true even if your condition worsens.

Source: Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission Handbook

Wage and Hour Issues 

What is the Minimum Wage in Illinois? In Chicago?

Illinois 

​The statewide standard  minimum wage in Illinois is currently $8.25/hr for employees age 18 and over. Employees under the age of 18, and employees within their first 90 days of service may be paid at a rate of $7.75/hr.  Tipped employees must also be paid minimum wage, but an employer may take credit for the employee's tips in an amount not to exceed 40% of the wages. An employer may pay a training wage for tipped employees 18 and over in the amount of $4.65 for the first 90 days if applying the tip credit of 40% or $7.75 if utilizing the tip credit. After 90 days, the rate must be increased to $4.95 if not utilizing the tip credit. ​ (820 ILCS 105/4)

Chicago

Within the limits of the City of Chicago, the standard minimum wage is currently $12/hr, and by law will increase to $13/hr on July 1, 2019.  ​​

When is an Employer Required to Pay Overtime?

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay employees at time and one half the regular rate of pay when they work over 40 hours in a workweek. The Fair Labor Standards Act is enforced by the US Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

By law, the following categories of employees are not required to receive overtime pay:

  • Salesmen and mechanics involved in selling or servicing cars, trucks or farm implements at dealerships,

  • Agricultural labor,

  • Executive, administrative or professional employees as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act,

  • Certain employees involved in radio/television in a city with a population under 100,000,

  • Commissioned employees defined by Section 7(i) of the Fair Labor Standards Act,

  • Employees who exchange hours pursuant to a workplace exchange agreement,

  • Employees of certain educational or residential child care institutions.

Equal Pay

​The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) is a Federal law making it illegal for an employer to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the perso​n complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.​​​​​

What Can I Do If My Employer is Paying Me Less Than Minimum Wage?

An employee has the right to file a civil action against his or her employer in circuit court if the employee was paid less than the minimum wage required by law. In such an action, an employee may recover three times the amount of the underpayment, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Within the City of Chicago, you may choose to file a complaint with the City of Chicago Office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.  Your employer will have 14 days from being notified of the complaint to repay you. They must provide the agency with proof of payment. If your employer continues to refuse to pay you, it can have its busines​s license suspended or revoked, and could be ordered to pay fines in addition to the wages that it owes you.​​ The City may also choose to refer the complaint to a prosecutor. 

Elsewhere in the State of Illinois, individuals can contact the Illinois Department of Labor regarding State Minimum Wage violations. A complaint form can be completed electronically or manually and submitted with supporting documentation by mail or in person. Additional information and documentation can be emailed to DOL.Wages@illinois.gov, faxed to 312-814-1210, or mailed with the assigned file number. A complainant may also call IDOL’s regular line at 312-793-2804 or its hotline at 800-478-3998 for questions or find answers from frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding filing a claim, form of payments, standard minimum wage and overtime, and the claims process at https://www.illinois.gov/idol/FAQs/Pages/default.aspx​