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Chicago Workers to Earn $15 Minimum Wage by 2021

On Nov. 26, the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage from $13 per hour to $15 per hour. This puts the Chicago minimum wage four years ahead of those mandated by the state of Illinois, which will not hit a minimum wage of $15 per hour until 2025. Our previous coverage of the Illinois minimum wage hike cited a 2017 report by the National Employment Law Project finding that 41 percent of all workers in Illinois currently earn less than $15 per hour. 

Chicago’s minimum wage will increase in waves, first to $14 per hour on July 1, 2020 and then to $15 per hour on July 1, 2021. After that, it will rise annually with the consumer price index. For tipped workers, sub-minimum wages will increase to $8.40 per hour in 2020, up from the current $6.40 per hour, and to $9 per hour by 2021. Tipped wages will also increase annually after 2021, to remain at 60 percent of the minimum wage.

Mayor Lightfoot stated that these wage increases would address wage stagnation, affecting hundreds of thousands of workers, as the cost of living in Chicago continues to increase. It would likewise eliminate exemptions for disabled workers and minors. Specifically, employers will no longer be able to pay disabled residents below the minimum wage, starting in 2024. Workers below the age of 18 will receive a gradual increase in wages, starting at $10 an hour in 2020 and ultimately reaching $15 an hour by 2024, until the minimum wage exemption for minors is eliminated in 2025. 

There is some relief for small employers, as employers with fewer than 20 workers will have until 2023 to increase wages to $15 per hour, and businesses with fewer than four employees are exempt from all increases, with a few exceptions.

Mayor Lightfoot cited support for her proposal from elected officials as well as labor and business leaders, but some employers are concerned that the higher wages will harm their businesses or force them to hire fewer workers. However, Mayor Lightfoot views her proposal as a compromise, as it keeps tipped workers below the minimum wage – a move the restaurant industry applauded. While employers are legally required to pay the difference if an employee’s tips do not add up to the minimum wage, workers’ advocates allege that this does not always happen in practice. 

The minimum wage increases in Chicago and Illinois will have far-reaching consequences for employers and employees alike. Employers will need to adjust their budgets and financial projections to prepare for these anticipated wage increases. Employers should also consider reviewing their payroll practices, both to verify they will be paying the appropriate wage and overtime rates for employees affected by the minimum wage increases and to ensure their tipping practices comply with the new law.

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About this Author

Kelsey J Schmidt Chicago Employment Attorney Barnes Thornburg Law Firm
Associate

Kelsey has experience drafting and negotiating agreements involving personnel policies and handbooks, restrictive covenants, bonus and executive compensation, termination and discipline, and settlement terms and conditions. She has counseled employers on decisions pertaining to hiring, discipline, termination, layoffs, leaves of absence, and trade secret and non-compete disputes. She has also partnered with executives and directors to develop and communicate effective compliance programs, policies and procedures consistent with federal and state laws.

In addition, Kelsey has...

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John Kuenstler Employment Attorney Barnes & Thornburg
Partner

John dedicates his practice exclusively to the representation of employers in labor and employment and business matters. He counsels and represents a diverse client base on a national and regional basis in virtually all aspects of labor and employment law.

John’s experience includes the defense of single- and multi-plaintiff, collective and class action litigation pertaining to wrongful discharge, discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, Section 1981, FMLA, FLSA, ERISA, USERRA, WARN and OSHA claims before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. He routinely advocates management’s interests in workplace tort, breach of contract, non-compete, non-solicitation and other restrictive covenant cases. John is skilled in various forms of alternative dispute resolution, helping clients avoid the costs of prolonged legal disputes.

In addition to his litigation practice, John also represents clients at all levels of administrative proceedings, including matters before the EEOC, NLRB, OSHA and DOL. For clients with organized workforces or those striving to remain union-free, John acts as the lead company negotiator for collective bargaining, defends employers in union grievance hearings and arbitrations, helps craft union avoidance campaigns, and provides legal counsel on the range of issues that can arise under the NLRA.

John has ably guided employers through workforce reorganizations, reductions in force, mass layoffs, plant closings, wage and hour investigations, and whistleblower claims, avoiding litigation through proactive responses and creative business strategies. He provides counseling on matters such as employment practice audits, effective human resources strategies and reviewing and drafting employment policies, social media policies, handbooks, employment contracts, independent contractor agreements, employee leasing agreements and severance agreements. To assist in the effective implementation of best practices policies, John provides training and seminars to managers on all matters that impact the employment relationship.

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