With few exceptions, Illinois employers must pay their employees $8.25 per hour. Further, if you work more than 40 hours in a work week, the employer must pay you one and one-half times your normal rate of pay. Again, there are exceptions, but, generally speaking, if your employer is not paying you accordingly, you may have a cause of action against the employer. You can either pursue that claim through the government—typically the wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor, or the Illinois Department of Labor—or through a private civil claim. A private civil claim means that you will hire an attorney and they will file a claim on your behalf either in State or Federal court for the amount of backpay and other damages to which you might be entitled.
The advantages to retaining your own counsel are that you will get individualized attention and have easy access to your attorney. Also, it is one cause of action even if you have both a federal and state claim, where as if you utilize the government departments to pursue the claim, you would have to file with both the U.S. Department of Labor and the Illinois Department of Labor. While the government would investigate and pursue your case free of charge, that reason alone should not deter you from researching whether a private action is in your best interest. For example, here at ZCW&S, we would offer a free consultation and we would often be able to take these cases on a contingent basis. That is, we would not charge you up front and we would receive our fees from the settlement. Additionally, as part of the action, we can request attorney fees, so there are many occasions where the opposing party shoulders the burden of your attorney fees. Pursuing a private action is also a great option if you don’t necessarily want your employer or former employer to be criminally charged.
You cannot pursue your case both in civil court and with the government, so you should decide early on in your case which option best suits you. In either case, you should remember to keep records of your employment situation, including hours worked and payment received. This information will likely be crucial to supporting your claims.