The Unequal Pay Law in Chicago

aidan-bartos-313782-copy-300x200Chicago has been one of the cities at the forefront of confronting the pressing issue of equal pay and conditions. Advocates have been regularly demonstrating in front of the legislative assembly demanding reform. A flurry of laws and legislative amendments have been passed in order to correct historical and current injustices in the arena of work. The only problem is that many ordinary members of the public do not really know the law or even how it is meant to apply to them. The justifications for the amendments range from moral ones to practical ones that speak of the benefits of having a rational pay structure.

The evidence is undisputed; many women in Chicago were paid a fraction of the wages paid to men for the same job. This was not a situation that was unique to Chicago alone. Unequal pay has been in existence from the moment that women joined the formal workforce. One of the provisions of the act is to bar employers from asking about wage and salary history because this is often used to mask the application of unequal pay. Women who have been on the receiving end of a raw deal can end up being trapped in that structure because the current and prospective employer wants to base the pay offer on past wages.

Technical Provisions Within the Law

Even where employers are barred from asking about wage history, they can still access publicly available information on pay. Campaigners are grateful for the strides that have been made in the law but argue that there is still a long way to go before truly equal pay is achieved. Wage discrimination can be hidden by placing women in positions that are then rated at a low level. That is why care and secretarial work is often lower paid than manual construction work, which is dominated by men. The legislation attempts to stop the perpetuation of unequal pay practices by holding employers accountable for all the decisions that they make.

Laws dealing with issues of inequality must take into account the opportunities that are available to women. Some of the pay structures are historical and deeply entrenched. Disentangling them takes time as well as affirmative action procedures that may be considered to be controversial, particularly if they involve a special increment on the wages of women on an aggregate scale. The Illinois Equal Pay Act has been criticized for not covering all the loopholes that exist in as far as they allow the continued perpetuation of the unequal pay framework.

Key Provisions and Exemptions

It is important to note that the unequal pay interventions do not necessarily remove all wage differentials. There are opportunities for employers to legitimately create wage differentials based on experience, qualifications, and even working hours. The law merely prevents wage differentials that are based on gender alone. Of course, some employers are able to use that as a loophole by insisting that women do not have the same physical capabilities as men or that they have to take time off work for childcare responsibilities. The amendments to the law are meant to ensure that these exemptions do not stand.

One of the things that is notable in the bill is the tendency to weaken the foundation of all the defenses that are available to the employer when they are discovered breaking the law. A case in point are the provisions that allow candidates to easily file lawsuits against discriminatory employers. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has expressed some concern about the detail prescriptions in the bill that could hinder the interview process particularly as it relates to benefits. Nevertheless, supporters of the bill argue that it is a price that is worth paying in order to ensure equal terms and conditions for equal work. To secure professional help with your unequal pay case, contact David Freidberg, Attorney at Law at 312-560-7100.

(image courtesy of Aidan Bartos)

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