Illinois Strengthens Equal Pay Protections

Illinois has joined the growing list of states implementing requirements intended to avoid pay discrimination. These requirements, which are effective September 29, 2019, include a new salary history ban, a lessening of the evidentiary burden to prove pay discrimination, strengthened anti-retaliation provisions, and additional damages available to employees.  Employers need to act quickly to ensure that candidates aren’t asked about compensation history, and otherwise comply with these new standards.

The 2019 Amendments to the Illinois Equal Pay Act prohibit Illinois employers from:

  • Screening job applicants based on their salary history
  • Requesting or requiring salary history
  • Otherwise requesting or requiring applicable to disclose salary history information
  • Seeking an applicant’s salary history information from current or former employers (unless it is public record).
  • Considering or relying on compensation history voluntarily provided (without prompting) in deciding whether to offer employment , in making an offer of compensation, or in determining future compensation.

The Amendments make clear that employers may engage in discussions with applicants about their expectations with respect to compensation and benefits, but it’s critical that those conversations are forward – not historically – focused.

The amended IL EPA also makes it easier for employees to prove claims of pay discrimination – both because it expands the group of individuals the employee can compare herself to in making her claim, and because it narrows the grounds on which an employer can justify a difference in pay.

Finally, the Amendments beef up the Illinois Equal Pay Act’s retaliation provisions.  The IL EPA previously provided that Illinois employers should not interfere with, restrain or retaliate against employees who wish to inquire about, disclose, compare or discuss their wages or the wages of other employees.  The Amendments go even further though – prohibiting employers from requiring an employee to sign an agreement that would prohibit them from disclosing or discussing their pay information.

Employees bringing claims under the IL Equal Pay Act will still have five years to bring their claims, and they will still be entitled to recover the entire amount of any underpayment with interest.  But under the Amendments, they will now also have the opportunity to seek compensatory damages in certain situations, as well as punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees.

Illinois employers need to take immediate action to ensure that those involved in the hiring process do not inadvertently violate the new salary history ban.  We recommend implementing a policy that requires that only one or two set individuals are authorized to discuss money with candidates, and that those individuals be trained to only ask about expectations, not salary history.  In addition, in light of the soon-to-be reduced standards for proving pay discrimination, Illinois employers should consider conducting a self-audit to identify – and resolve – any pay inequality before a claim arises.

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