Chicago City Council Creates Office of Labor Standards to Enforce Chicago’s Employment Ordinances

On October 31, 2018, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved the formation of the Office for Labor Standards (OLS).1  The new OLS was created to facilitate more rigorous enforcement of the city’s employment ordinances and to promote investigation into alleged violations.  The law will go into effect on January 1, 2019.

Prior to the creation of the OLS, workers submitted complaints of alleged violations of the city’s employment ordinances directly to the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), the department tasked with enforcing the Municipal Code.  However, the BACP juggles a number of competing responsibilities: in addition to enforcing Chicago’s employment ordinances, it is also responsible for licensing businesses and protecting consumers from fraud.  As a result, the BACP’s ability to devote time and resources to investigate alleged violations of employment ordinances is limited.  In 2016, the BACP investigated only one out of every four minimum wage complaints that were filed with the department.2

The OLS will be organized within the BACP, but will have dedicated staff and a focused mission.  Specifically, the OLS will be responsible for enforcing the Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance of 2013, the Minimum Wage Ordinance of 2014, and the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance of 2017.3 The OLS will be composed of five employees: a director, two investigators, a paralegal, and an administrative employee.

The OLS will receive complaints of alleged violations of these ordinances, investigate alleged violations, conduct hearings, mediate disputes, and issue notices of violation.  The OLS will be required to keep the name and identifying information of a reporting employee confidential unless the employee provides written authorization or disclosure is required by law.  

The OLS will have a number of tools at its disposal to enforce the ordinances it is tasked with administering.  If the OLS determines that a violation has occurred, it is authorized to enforce the relevant law by ordering the employer to pay the penalties provided by that ordinance.  If an employer is found to have committed willful or repeated violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act or Chicago employment ordinances, the OLS will refer that person or entity to the Commissioner of the BACP, who may deny, revoke, or suspend the employer’s business license.  An employer that is found liable for violating one of the ordinances the OLS administers can also be referred to the Chief Procurement Officer, and may be subject to the suspension or cancelation of the employer’s current contracts with the city. Further violations may result in the debarment from any future business with the city.

In form and function, the OLS is effectively the same as the BACP that came before it.  The creation of OLS does not change the underlying ordinances or the mechanisms for their enforcement.  The creation of a new, standalone office with dedicated personnel solely focused on enforcing these city employment ordinances, however, is likely to increase enforcement. Employers should evaluate their compliance with Chicago city ordinances and remain alert for any proposed or recently enacted legislation.

See Footnotes

1 Chi., Ill., Mun. Code § 2-25-35 (2018), available here.

2 See Melissa Sanchez, Chicago’s Lax Enforcement of Minimum Wage Hike Leaves Workers in the Lurch, Chi. Reporter, Feb. 8, 2017.

3 The City Council is currently considering a Fair Workweek ordinance; if the ordinance passes, it too will be enforced by the OLS. See Kathryn Siegel, Chicago Considers Fair Workweek Ordinance, Littler ASAP (July 18, 2018).

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.