Illinois Continues to Offer a Helping Hand to Individuals with Criminal Backgrounds

Illinois Continues to Offer a Helping Hand to Individuals with Criminal Backgrounds

The current legislature session has resulted in the enactment of two important pieces of legislation for those who have criminal backgrounds.

Illinois Finally Permits Individuals to Seal Certain Misdemeanor Crimes of Violence

After several failed lobbying attempts, the Illinois Legislature finally agreed to amend the Criminal Identification Act to extend the right to seal to individuals with minor violent (misdemeanor) offenses such as simple battery, assault, and reckless conduct. On August 19, 2014, Governor signed this legislation into law. The law will go into effect starting January 1, 2015.

This legislation will finally provide relief to those individuals who were left with no way to eliminate such low level offenses except to petition the governor for clemency -- a process that normally takes years.  The law expressly excludes the following offenses from being sealed: domestic battery, battery to an unborn child, any crimes (including attempted acts) that would subject someone to being registered as a Sex Offender, order of protection violations, and dog fighting. The law does not allow anyone to seal a violent offense which resulted in a felony conviction.

“Ban-the-Box” Now Covers Private Employers

On July 19, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, or better known as a “ban-the-box” law. The law goes into effect January 1, 2015.

Under the law, no private employer who has 15 or more employees can ask a job applicant on an employment application if he/she has been convicted of a crime. This law also covers staffing agencies. Currently, the only limitations to what an employer can ask on a job application are that an employer cannot ask someone if he/she has ever been arrested for a crime or require someone to answer “yes” if he/she has previously sealed their criminal convictions.

While the law bars criminal history questions on job applications, it does not prohibit an employer from asking someone about their criminal background during a job interview. In other words, once an employer determines that someone is qualified for the position and is contacted to come in for an interview, the employer may inquire into that person’s background. If the employer does not conduct interviews, then the employer must wait to inquire into someone’s background after a conditional job offer has been made.

The purpose of “ban-the-box” laws is to give someone with a criminal background a chance to sell him or herself during an in-person or telephone interview. What this law does not change is the employer’s right to conduct a criminal background check prior to hire.  This law also does not eliminate any federal or state statutory barriers to employment. For example, an individual who wants to work in health care and has certain criminal convictions on his or her record will still need to get a Health Care Worker Waiver in order to be eligible for hire.

The Illinois Department of Labor will be responsible for enforcing the law. Employers who repeatedly violate the law will be subject to civil penalties (fines). The law does not give job applicants the right to sue an employer who violates the law.