Illinois News Network
CHICAGO – Employers in Illinois can no longer access criminal background checks on potential hires until after an interview is conducted.
Gov. Quinn signed into law this week a bill that prohibits private employers from asking applicants about their criminal history prior to determining if they are qualified for the job.
“Everyone deserves a second chance when it comes to getting a job,” Governor Quinn said in a press release. “This law will help ensure that people across Illinois get a fair shot to reach their full potential through their skills and qualifications, rather than past history. It will also help reduce recidivism, fight poverty and prevent violence in our communities by putting more people back to work.”
The governor’s action is, according to his statement, an effort to “ensure all Illinois’ workers are treated fairly,” and follows last year’s executive order stipulating the same consideration for applicants for state employment.
The Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, also referred to as the “ban the box” bill in reference to the box on many application forms asking applicants if they are a convicted criminal, makes Illinois the fifth state to restrict pre-interview criminal background checks.
Jay Shattuck is the executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Employment Law Council, and says while the bill does create a bit of a burden for employers, it’s a reasonable attempt to give some applicants who would otherwise be ignored a chance.
“A lot of times an employer may consider an individual who was convicted of a crime many years ago but who are otherwise qualified and have a gone straight since,” Shattuck said. “This gives the applicants who do receive an interview a chance to explain what happened and make their case for being hired.”
Making it to the interview process may be the extra opportunity these former criminals need to get back on their feet, according to Shattuck, even if it means some extra work for employers.
“It does add a little bit of a burden to employers looking to fill a vacancy,” Shattuck said. “If they can’t automatically look at the box and throw out applications from ex-cons, they’ll have to do more work and take more time when choosing who to interview. They’ve lost the ability to weed out the applicant list by that one box.”
The new rule only pertains to businesses with more than 15 employees on the payroll.
State Sen. Dale Syverson, R – Rockford, disagrees with the intent of the legislation, and says it will just create more work for employers and lead potential employees on.
“Many companies already have rules in place,” Syverson said. “This isn’t going to cause them to change their rules, but it will cause them to have to go through a lot more interviews to hire or not hire the same people they were going to anyway.”
Syverson argued that companies should have the freedom to determine their hiring rules and procedures on their own.
“By allowing applicants to undergo the interview process without being judged as unfit for employment because of their background, we will help individuals get back to work, pursue a higher education and become the responsible residents that our state thrives on,” State Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, said in a statement. “I believe this legislation will improve the lives of many residents and give them the opportunities they were previously unable to strive for.”
Waukegan sponsored the bill in the House, while State Sen. Antonio Muñoz, D-Chicago, was the primary Senate sponsor.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to be considered for employment,” Sen. Munoz said in a press release. “This legislation protects people with criminal records from discrimination, gives deserving people a second chance and allows them to be evaluated based on their suitability for a position.”
Gov. Quinn’s office said in a statement that this move is part of a broader agenda to “give people of all ages a second chance in life.” The office cited recent legislation signed by the governor that automatically clears arrest records for less serious, non-violent juvenile cases, and legislation that increases the number of felonies that are legally sealed and inaccessible without the court meeting strict criteria.
The legislation does not apply to jobs where employers are legally obligated to exclude applicants with criminal history, and therefore exempts some construction jobs, emergency medical jobs and security jobs.
The law takes effect January 1, 2015.