Category: Unpaid Wages

Are You Entitled to Severance?

Individuals often ask me if they are entitled to severance benefits after being terminated. Severance benefits are a lump sump payment to the employee which usually require the employee to sign an agreement waiving all potential legal claims against the company. Illinois law does not require employers to pay severance to terminated employees. However, there are some employees legally entitled to severance pay.

Contracts that Guarantee Severance

The exception to this general rule is when the company has contractually agreed to provide severance  if the employee is terminated. There are two common situations where employers offer these types of employment agreements. First, these types of contracts are sometimes provided to executive-level employees. The promise of future severance may help entice an employee to join the new company, or convince an existing employee to remain with the company.

Second, these types of contracts are common when a company is in the process of merging with a bigger company. In these situations, employees for the company being bought-out are concerned (often rightly so) they will lose their job in the merger. To ensure a stable transition, the acquiring company will offer employees of the soon-to-be-acquired company a contract guaranteeing severance in the event the employee is terminated. Thus, the employees have an assurance that their job is safe, and in the event of termination, they still will be provided compensation.

Voluntary Severance

Companies are often still willing to pay severance benefits for a variety of reasons. Companies may provide severance benefits as a recognition of service to the company. For instance, some companies have a general policy of giving one week of severance for each year of service. Employers may also provide severance partly because they are concerned the employee may sue the company. To prevent any future litigation, the employer agrees to pay the employee a lump sum payment in exchange for the employee waiving all claims against the company.

Even if the company does not offer any type of severance, a terminated employee may still be entitled to unemployment benefits to ease the burden of losing his or her job. It is important to note that even if you are paid severance, you generally are still equally entitled to unemployment benefits, and the severance payments do not affect your unemployment benefit amount.

If you have been laid off and are presented with a severance agreement (or think you may be entitled to one), it is highly advisable to seek a qualified employment attorney to review your situation. Unfortunately, I have reviewed too many cases where an individual has strong claims against an employer, but is unable to pursue them due to prematurely signing a severance agreement. Contact us today if you are in need of employment advice.

Election Day Employment Rights

Most people know they have the right to vote tomorrow, November 8, 2016, for the next president of the United States (among other candidates/issues). However, not as many people know they might be entitled to miss work in order to cast their ballot. Although there are no federal laws requiring employers to provide employees time-off to vote, many states have such laws.

Voting Poll

In Illinois, the State’s Election Code provides employees certain protections when it comes to voting. 10 ILCS 5/17-15. The Act applies when an individual begins their shift less than two hours after the opening of polls, and ends less than two hours before the closing of polls. In these situations, the company must permit a two-hour absence to allow the employee to vote. It is illegal for a person or corporation to deny this type of leave or subject the employee to any adverse consequences for making the request.

In order to take advantage of the law, Illinois employees need to act by the end of the day! In order be protected by the law, the employee must submit the leave application prior to the day of the election. Now Illinois employees have one less excuse to exercise their civic duty and vote on Tuesday!

Governor Rauner Signs Domestic Workers Bill of Rights into Law

I previously posted that Illinois was on the verge of passing HB1288, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Thankfully Governor Rauner has now signed the bill, making Illinois the seventh state to adopt the type of law. The Act provides much-needed workplace protections and entitlements to housekeepers, nannies, and caregivers, among other types of domestic jobs.


The statute amends different Illinois employment-related laws to provide domestic workers numerous workplace protections. Starting January 1, 2017, domestic workers will be protected from illegal discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act, 820 ILCS 5/1-101, entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, 820 ILCS 105/1, and entitled to certain rest breaks under 820 ILCS 140/1, among other protections and entitlements.

It is disappointing Illinois did not provide these basic workplace protections to domestic workers in the past. However, at least the legislature and governor took the necessary steps to finally provide these employment protections to domestic workers that most other Illinois employees already enjoy.

Developments in New Overtime Rule

As I previously discussed, the Department of Labor created a new overtime rule that will increase the salary threshold for so-called “white-collar” employees to be exempt from overtime.  Currently white-collar employees are exempt from overtime if they are paid a salary of $23,660 and meet other job duties qualifications.  However, the Department of Labor is increasing that threshold to $47,476.  This means white-collar employees earning less than this amount will be entitled to time-and-a-half for all overtime worked.  The new rule is set to take effect on December 1, 2016.


Opponents of the new rule, largely Republicans, have already fought hard to prevent the rule from becoming implemented.  Senate Republicans initially contemplated blocking the rule by including a rider on this year’s Appropriations bill.  Such a rider would cut off funding necessary to implement the rule.  However, Republicans did not end up including the rider in the bill, knowing such a rider would likely result in a veto from President Obama.

Senators have also introduced a resolution (S.J. Res. 34) to block the overtime rule.  The resolution was only backed by Republicans.  The President is required to sign any resolution preventing the rule (per INS v. Chahda, 462 U.S. 919 (1983)), meaning Congress would need a two-thirds vote to override any veto.  As President Obama proposed and announced the overtime rule, a veto would be inevitable, and Republicans would be unable to override it.

However, legislators on both sides of the aisle have proposed changes to the new Overtime Rule.  This month, Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced H.R. 5813.  The law would phase in the Department’s overtime rule over a period of three years.  It would increase the threshold as follows:

  • December 1, 2016: $35,984
  • December 1, 2017: $39,814
  • December 1, 2018: $43,645
  • December 1, 2019: $47,476

GovTrack currently gives the bill a 1% chance of becoming a law.  However, we will closely follow this and other related proposed legislation as it will determine whether a large amount of workers are entitled to overtime pay.

Illinois on the Verge of Getting Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

On June 26, 2016, the Illinois General Assembly approved the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.  In short, the law would provide greater workplace protections for domestic workers, such as caregivers and house cleaners, that were previously unavailable.  The bill is sitting on Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk for his signature.

CleanerWhat’s the Problem?

Domestic workers are not protected by many federal and state employment laws.  Many laws protecting workers only apply to companies with a minimum number of employees.  For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with 15 or more employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act only to employers with 50 or more employees, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to employers with 20 or more employees.  As most companies employing domestic workers only have a few employees, these laws do not effectively protect them.

Moreover, some laws specifically exclude domestic workers from the employment protections.  For example, the National Labor Relations Act, which allows employees to form a union and negotiate for better pay, does not protect individuals “in the domestic service of any family or person at home.” 29 U.S.C. § 152(3).  Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which sets minimum standards of health and safety at the workplace, does not cover domestic workers. 29 C.F.R. § 1975.6.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

The proposed legislation adds several employment protections for domestic workers.  The bill generally applies to people performing “domestic work,” which includes housekeeping, nanny services, caregiving, and companion services, among other duties.   The bill provides the following protections for domestic employees:

  • The bill allows domestic workers to be protected by Illinois’ Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in Illinois with respect to employment on the basis of race, color religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, military status, age, marital status, sexual orientation, and disability.
  • The bill adds domestic workers as individual covered by the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, which mandates Illinois employers to pay their employers the minimum wage (currently $8.25) and overtime for all hours worked over forty in a given week.
  • Domestic workers must be allowed to have a 24-hour consecutive rest break in every calendar week. The domestic worker can voluntarily agree to work on such day of rest, but the employer is required to pay all hours worked on the rest day the overtime rate, even if the employee has not worked at least forty hours in the given week.

The Governor has 60 days to take action on the legislation.  If he approves the bill, it will become effective on January 1, 2017.  Domestic workers are often overworked and underpaid, and it is good to see these long-overdue employment protections close to becoming Illinois law.

New Federal Overtime Rule

We are proud to announce the opening of Osborne Employment Law!  The firm’s founding attorney, Quinton Osborne, represents employees in all types of employment-related disputes, including unpaid wages, wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation, non-compete disputes, sexual harassment, unemployment, and healthcare license defense.  Click here to learn more about the firm.

This portion of the website will be dedicated to providing updates about the firm, discussing recent employment-law cases, and reviewing relevant laws and regulations.  If you have any questions or requests for blog posts, contact Osborne Employment Law.

Recent Updates in Federal Overtime Law

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Labor announced likely the most important employment-related administrative rule for 2016.  The Department of Labor is the United States agency responsible for enforcing and setting standards for many work-related areas, including wage and hour standards.  Keep in mind, Congress is notoriously bad at passing laws.  Thus, often the major employment-related “legislation” on the federal level are actually regulations created by federal agencies.  In the employment world, this usually involves the Department of Labor or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, both of which have the authority to create regulations related to their defined areas.

Obama Signing Overtime Regulation

On May 18, 2016, President Obama announced publication of the Department of Labor’s new long-awaited final overtime rule.  In order to be legally classified as exempt from overtime as an executive, administrative, professional, outside salesman, or computer employee, one of the three tests is that you must be paid a minimum salary.  Currently companies only need to pay employees a salary of $23,660 to meet the threshold.  However, effective December 1, 2016, the salary threshold will rise to $47, 476, more than double its current amount.

Who Does the New Rule Effect?

The new overtime rule will impact executive, administrative, professional, outside salesman, and computer employees who work over forty hours in a week and are currently paid less than $47,476.  These employees will now be entitled to an overtime rate of time-and-a-half their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over forty.

Employers have several different options to cope with the new overtime rule.  The most obvious is to keep the employee’s salary the same, but start paying overtime for all hours worked over forty.  If the employer does not want to track all of the employee’s hours, it can simply raise the employee’s salary at or above the $47,476 salary threshold.  The employer can also choose simply to limit the workers’ hours to forty per week.