Last updated: May 2012
This Guide will help you recover your unpaid wages by:Answering questions about whether you should receive, or should have received, the unpaid wages in the "Common Questions" section;Explaining your options and how to recover your owed unpaid wages in the "Step-by-Step" section;Explaining the steps for filing your court papers in the "Instructions" section;Giving you the required forms to fill out and file in the "Forms/Letters" section;Referring you to more information about wages in the "Related Articles" section;Providing you with references if you need to talk to a lawyer in the "Find Legal Help" section.Click on words that appear like 'this' to learn what these words mean.How do I know what wages I am owed? Illinois law says that all workers must be paid their agreed wages. It does not matter how you are paid, whether it is by hour, salary, by piece, or other method. If you work, then you should be paid. However, your agreed upon rate should never fall below minimum wage for every hour worked. If you work more than 40 hours in one week then your employer must pay you one and a half times (1.5x) your regular hourly wage. How often should I Be paid? In Illinois, you should be paid at least twice a month. If you are paid twice a month or every two weeks, your employer must pay you within 13 days from the end of the pay period. If you are paid weekly, your employer must pay you within 7 days from the end of the pay period.Am I owed vacation time? It depends. In Illinois, there is no automatic right to vacation time. However, if your employer has a vacation policy, either written or verbal, then you are owed all the vacation time that you have earned up until the point that you are fired or leave your job. How do I calculate how much I am owed in unpaid wages? In order to calculate how much you are owed, use the following formula:(Total amount you should have received) - (Amount you were paid) = (Total owed wages).First, determine what you were actually paid by multiplying your hourly rate by the number of hours that you worked. For example, if you worked a total of 100 hours at $5.00 per hour, you were paid a total of $500 (100 hours * $5 = $500).Next, determine how much you were supposed to have been paid by multiplying the hours you worked by the appropriate minimum wage. If you worked 100 hours in Illinois when the minimum wage is $8.25 per hour, you should have received $825 (100 hours * $8.25 = $825). Finally, subtract the amount that you should have received by the amount you actually received to determine the difference that you are owed. Using the examples above, you would be owed $325 in owed minimum wages ($825 - $500 = $325). Do I need to have all my pay stubs to prove I was underpaid? No. While you should keep any evidence that you have indicating that you were underpaid, it is not necessary. State and federal laws require your employer to keep records of your hours and pay. When must I be paid if I am fired or leave my job? You must be paid everything you are owed by your employer by the next regularly scheduled payday. You have the right to ask in writing that your final wages be paid by check and mailed to you.Can I still recover my owed wages if my employer is no longer operating? Yes. Even if your employer has stopped operating and has closed its doors, they still owe you your earned wages. Both the company that hired you as well as individuals with operational control over the company are responsible for paying you all of your owed wages.What is the "minimum wage"? The minimum wage is the lowest hourly rate employers are allowed to pay their employees. If you earn less than minimum wage, you may be entitled to recover the difference that is owed to you.Since July 1, 2010, the Illinois minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. Since July 24, 2009, the federal minimuim wage is $7.25 an hour. Which employers are covered by minimum wage laws? Almost every employer is required to pay at least either the state or federal minimum wage.Generally in Illinois, you are entitled to receive at least the state minimum wage if you work for a company with more than three employees. However, there are some companies and types of jobs that are not covered by the minimum wage law. Under federal law, an employee is entitled to receive the federal minimum wage if the employer earns more than $500,000 in a year and is connected to interstate commerce. For more information on whether an employer is supposed to pay either the Illinois or federal minimum wage, see the related articles, or contact one of the organizations in the "Find Legal Help" section.Can I be fired for asking about the minimum wage? No. It is illegal for your employer to fire or retaliate against you in any way for asking about minimum wages. If you feel you have been retaliated against, you should either contact a "Helpful Organization" in your area listed below (make sure you enter your zip code), contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or speak with a lawyer.Am I entitled to receive the minimum wage if I earn tips? Yes and no. In Illinois, employers are allowed to pay traditionally tipped jobs, like waiters, 60% of the minimum wage. This means that as of July 1, 2010, a tipped employee can be paid $4.95 per hour. However, when you add the wages and tips together of a tipped employee, they must be at least the minimum wage or else it's a violation.Am I entitled to receive the minimum wage if I earn a salary? Yes. Even if you earn a salary, you are still entitled to receive the minimum wage. You can determine if your salary violates the minimum wage laws by dividing your salary by the number of hours that you work. The result is your average hourly rate, which must equal at least the minimum wage.For example, if you have a salary that pays $200 per week and you work 40 hours in that week, your actual hourly rate comes to only $5 per hour ($200 / 40 hours = $5 an hour). Because this amount is less than the minimum wage, you are entitled to recover the difference that you are owed.Can my employer pay me less than the minimum wage for training? Yes. In Illinois, employees in training may be paid pay up to $.50 an hour below the minimum wage for their first 90 days.After the first 90 days, an employee must be paid the full minimum wage.How far back can I collect my unpaid wages in Illinois? Illinois law gives you the right to recover your owed wages for several years prior to the date that you file a lawsuit to recover them. For example, if you filed a minimum wage lawsuit on January 1, 2010, you could only recover your owed minimum wage from January 1, 2007 to the present. Even if you are owed minimum wage from 2005 and 2006, in this example you can still only recover wages from January 1, 2007 and forward.The Illinois minimum wage rates from 2007 to 2010 were:July 1, 2007 - June 30, 2008: $7.50 per hour;July 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009: $7.75 per hour;July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010: $8.00 per hour;July 1, 2010 - Present: $8.25 per hour.Under Federal law you have the right to recover your owed minimum wages for two years prior to the date you file a lawsuit, with the possibility of 3 years if your employer was purposely violating the law. The federal minimum wage rates since 1997:Sept 1, 1997 - July 23, 2007: $5.15 per hour;July 24, 2007 - July 23, 2008: $5.85 per hour;July 24, 2008 - July 23, 2009: $6.55 per hour;July 24, 2009 - Present: $7.25 per hour.If you have more questions on when you can collect unpaid minimum wages, click on the "Find Legal Help" section.Can I receive interest or penalities in addition to the wages I am owed? Yes. Under Illinois law, you may receive 2% additional per month, in addition to your owed wages. Under federal law, you can receive up to double of what you are owed based on the federal minimum wage.If you need to talk to a lawyer, click on the "Find Legal Help" section.Does my immigration status affect my eligibility to receive minimum wage? No. Your immigration status does not affect your ability to recover your owed minimum wages. Your employer is required to pay at least the minimum wage to all employees for all time worked, regardless of immigration status. You and any lawyer assisting you with your case should keep your immigration status confidential and prevent your employer from raising questions about you immigration status. Speak directly with your employer If you feel comfortable, you can speak directly with your employer to try and recover your owed wages. Often this is the fastest way to receive your owed wages, particularly if it was the result of a mistake. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for asking about owed wages.File a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor The Illinois Department of Labor investigates violations of minimum wage pay and determines what, if any, unpaid wages are owed. You have 1 year from when you last worked for your employer, or 1 year from when the unpaid wages are owed, whichever is later, to file your claim. There is no cost to filing a claim, and you do not need an attorney. To file a claim with the Illinois Department of Labor, complete the application and follow the instructions located in "Forms/Letters." You should include copies of any evidence you have which you think might show that you are owed wages with your application. For example, you might have paychecks or time cards that show you received less than the mandatory minimum hourly wage or salary. If you do not have any documents, remember it is your employer's responsibility to keep all your pay and time records.You can either mail or drop-off 2 copies of your complete application at:Illinois Department of LaborFair Labor Standards DivisionCompliance Processing Section160 N. LaSalle Ave, Suite C-1300Chicago, IL 60601-3150If your address or telephone number changes, make sure to contact the Illinois Department of Labor so they can change it on your claim.Remember that the Department of Labor can only investigate the 3 years before the date that you file your claim. File a lawsuit on your own You can sue your employer for your owed wages without an attorney. This is called filing "pro-se." When you file your own lawsuit, the court will charge you a fee. If you cannot afford this fee, you can ask the court let you file without paying it. See Filing Court Papers for Free for more information.In filing your unpaid wages complaint with the court, you should include who you worked for, what type of work you performed, where you worked, when you worked there, how many hours you worked each week, and what you were paid each week. If you have any evidence of these facts, it might be helpful to include them in your complaint. For example, a copy of pay stub which shows a minimum wage violation might be helpful to prove that you are owed minimum wages. Remember, even if you do not have any documents it is the employer's responsibility to keep all your pay and time records. In Illinois State Court, lawsuits for $10,000 or less, are known as small claims. The court's rules for small claims are easier to follow and the cases go more quickly than for lawsuits for more money. For recovering your owed overtime in small claims, see I Want to Sue Someone for $10,000 or Less for instructions. If you are owed more than $10,000, you cannot sue in small claims court and should consider consulting an attorney to assist you. Depending on where you live, the court may have its own rules and procedures on how you file your lawsuit. You should request and complete any necessary forms at your Clerk of Court office and then file it. Click here to find the location of the closest Clerk's office. If you want to sue in Federal Court, follow the instructions in How to File a Case in Federal Court without a Lawyer. If you have questions about these options, see the "Related Articles" and/or contact one of the organizations that you can find in the "Find Legal Help" sectionTalk to a lawyer You always have the option to talk to a lawyer. For a referral to a lawyer who does employment cases, you may contact one of the legal aid offices listed in the "Find Legal Help" section.You can also find a private lawyer through the Chicago Bar Association or the Illinois State Bar Association.
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