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Wage claim judgments elusive for some workers

Being properly paid is an important worker right. Accordingly, workers who are not paid their entitled wages may file a claim and seek enforcement with the Illinois Department of Labor. But, 75 percent of workers who won a wage claim under the state's employment law since 2018 have not received any money.

In 80 percent of cases, employers pay unpaid wages after the Labor Department notifies them about the claim. The remaining 20 percent of employers dispute these claims and an administrative hearing will be held to decide the matter.

The department notifies both parties of their decision after the hearing. An employer who loses their case must pay the wages or petition the ruling within 35 days. After 35 days, the matter goes to the Attorney General's office to enforce payment, if the wages are not paid or if the case is not appealed. The Attorney General may attach liens or garnish wages to enforce wage payment.

Over 400 claimants are still owed these wage judgments. On average, claimants who successfully pursued their wage claims are still owed $6,000. One worker has been waiting for $103,206 since June 2019. Another claimant has been entitled to $67,176 since Sept. 2018 and a worker has been owed $19,714 since May 2018.

Also, employers must pay penalties for failure to make timely wage claim payments. The Attorney General is responsible for seeking these penalties but has collected only half of them. The claimant owed $103,206 is now entitled to another $180,000 in late fees.

There is also a lack of success with obtaining money owed to the state. A losing party in a wage claim must pay an administrative fee of at least $250. The department has not collected $150,000 of these fees in the last two years.

The department has made some improvements. It hired two more additional administrative law judges to clear up delays in wage claim hearings. A pilot program was created for mediation that would allow employers and claimants settle wage claims before hearings.

Workers whose rights are denied by nonpayment of wages and other employer actions such as wrongful termination may need legal assistance if the government does not act on their behalf. An attorney can help them pursue damages and obtain other relief under federal and Illinois laws.

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