Recent Chicago News Story Highlights Problems of Going it Alone

You did everything right when you left your last job: showed up on your last day, turned in your laptop and smart phone, had goodbye drinks with colleagues. And yet, you have unpaid wages. Maybe you didn’t get your last paycheck or maybe you didn’t receive all your overtime, accrued commissions or that bonus or severance payment promised to you. What should you do about it?

The answer many quickly jump to is to simply go it alone by filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) or US Department of Labor (USDOL). And that’s what you might be thinking, too. Why hire a lawyer, you might ask, when all he or she is going to do is take a “cut” of your hard-earned money, right?

Not so fast. Hiring a lawyer is probably the best thing you can do.

Going it alone at IDOL or USDOL can create a very long wait, as a recent story on CBS 2 Chicago demonstrates. Worse, you could end up collecting less than what you’d have collected had you just gone to a lawyer in the first place.

Advantages for Workers

An employment lawyer can help with unpaid wage claims, often with better and faster results than by filing a claim with the IDOL or USDOL on your own. Here’s why it pays to work with an attorney instead of going it alone:

  1. It does not make the process longer but often shortens it. It’s a simple matter of competing priorities. At IDOL or USDOL, your claim is competing with possibly hundreds (or even thousands) of other claims for the attention of a finite staff of claims investigators whose “client” is the government – a being with ever-shifting political priorities – and not you. As a result, your claim could easily get buried, as the CBS 2 Chicago story reflects. Contractually, when you work with an attorney, you’re hiring an advocate with a fiduciary duty to you to resolve your matter as quickly as possible.
  2. It’s more affordable than you think. The law entitles employees who file lawsuits over unpaid wage claims to reimbursement of legal fees from their employer when the claim resolves in the worker’s favor. This often creates a powerful incentive for employers to pay up sooner, lest they end up owing workers more in legal fees than they owed in unpaid wages in the first place.
  3. It may net you more money. Hiring a lawyer brings substantial benefits. An employment lawyer is more likely to pursue all remedies available to you, which may include liquidated damages and treble damages – damages that can double or even triple the amount owed to you – plus monthly interest charges of up to 5 percent. Keep reading, Illinois workers, there’s more about treble damages below. And, if they detect your wage claim is part of a larger pattern of wage abuse affecting other workers, which often is the case, they can help you with the complexities of advancing your case as a class action lawsuit, which could further increase your recovery.
  4. You’re protected. Having a lawyer by your side serves to protect you in many important ways. Most importantly, a lawyer can help you avoid common missteps unknown to non-lawyers that can cause wage claims to fail purely on technical grounds. Your lawyer can also help you assess whether your employer violated your rights under other employment laws, including those outside the jurisdiction of IDOL and USDOL – and make sure you advance those claims while you still have time (i.e. before the statute of limitations runs out), so you don’t leave any money “on the table.” Finally, a lawyer may provide you extra insulation from retaliation should your employer become particularly vindictive after you advance your claim. A lawyer can monitor for retaliation and send strategically timed warning and cease-and-desist letters to stop it quickly. And in many cases, an employer may be less likely to lash out when it knows you already have the ear of a lawyer.

What About Employers?

Unpaid wage claims are a problem for employers too. When former employees file unpaid wage claims it creates adverse publicity for the employer. With employees able to post on review sites like Glass Door, word spreads and hiring can become tricky, especially for small service businesses, like salons and foodservice businesses.

Also, unpaid wage liabilities can grow exponentially the longer they’re unresolved, after factoring in interest and penalties. In fact, earlier this year, Governor Pritzker signed into law amendments to Illinois’ wage laws to entitle aggrieved workers to collect penalties of three times (treble) their wages due, plus five percent monthly interest. State and federal law also impose personal liabilities on owners and managers under certain circumstances.

Businesses simply cannot afford to be non-compliant with wage laws.

Make Our Phone Ring

If you are owed unpaid wages, we encourage you to call Savine Employment Law, Ltd. and talk to Gary. If you’re an employer of any size who wants to make sure your pay practices are legally compliant, give us a call. (312) 800-1439

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Gary Savine is an Illinois employment lawyer and founder of Savine Employment Law, Ltd. in Chicago. Gary regularly advises human resources professionals on recently enacted employment laws.

Photocredit: © Can Stock Photo / Pakhnyushchyy