A Few More Thoughts about Illinois' Ban-the-Box Law

Earlier this year I wrote about Illinois’ Ban-the-Box Law, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2015. I’d like to point out a few things I did not mention. First, the law includes a broad exception for employers who are prohibited under federal or state law from hiring someone who has committed certain criminal offenses. This exception covers school districts, law enforcement agencies, and healthcare providers, to name a few. Thus, if you are looking for work in these job sectors you will be asked to disclose your criminal history on a job application.

Second, it is critical that, as a job applicant, you know when the employer has concluded you are “qualified for the position.” The law provides that employers are only permitted to ask you about your criminal background once they’ve determined you are “qualified” for the job and have selected you for an interview. Because employers routinely conduct telephone interviews before inviting a job applicant to interview in person, the answer to this question is not always clear cut.

If a telephone interview is being used to screen applicants – in other words, determine who is “qualified” -- an employer cannot ask about your criminal history during the call. If the purpose of the call is unclear, ask the interviewer whether you’ve already been found “qualified” for the job.

Finally, I cannot stress how important it is to read the criminal history question carefully before answering it. The devil is in the details. Some employers are only concerned about felony convictions. Others limit the time frame (e.g., convictions during the last seven or ten years). If an employer does not specify a time frame, you must disclose any criminal conviction history you have.

If you are applying for a job with the federal government, it is not uncommon to be questioned about your arrest history – although under Illinois law, questions regarding arrests are improper – and your juvenile record (if arrested prior to 2010) because an FBI fingerprint background check will reveal this information.

The bottom line: Some employers will forgive your criminal background; few, if any, employers, will hire you after they learn you lied about your criminal background.