Wage-theft law takes effect without many teeth

December 31, 2010

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(Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)
Shannon is vowing more enforcement resources.

An Illinois law that’s billed as a crackdown on wage theft takes effect Saturday. But, for now, Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration won’t be delivering the tough enforcement he promised.

The law hikes fines for a range of wage-and-hour violations. It makes it a felony for an employer to steal wages twice in two years. And it enables the Illinois Department of Labor to adjudicate small claims without referring them to prosecutors.

More than five months since Quinn signed the law, however, his administration hasn’t finished writing enforcement rules. IDOL Director Catherine Shannon said those rules won’t take effect for at least four more months. “Passing laws is really easy,” she said, “but implementing laws is not always as easy as it looks.”

To handle wage-theft claims, the department is also counting on more investigators and administrative judges. “When we start collecting these penalties, we’re going to have additional resources,” Shannon said.

Meantime, Shannon says she’ll decide next week whether to file “emergency” rules that would enable the department to order fines for small claims when the employer blows off the hearing.