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Understanding the New “Ban the Box” Law in Illinois

At the beginning of this year Illinois joined a growing number of states and cities (including Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Newark, and Buffalo) that have enacted “ban the box legislation.” The new Illinois statute, called the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, applies to all private employers with fifteen or more employees. The Act prohibits employers from asking about, requiring the disclosure of, or considering an applicant’s criminal history, until that applicant has been notified that he/she has been selected for an interview. If an interview is not part of the hiring process, employers may not make such inquiries until a conditional job offer is made to the applicant.

Prior to the passage of this Act, employers routinely issued application forms that required applicants to disclose their criminal backgrounds. The Act is an effort to prevent employers from automatically disqualifying an applicant based solely on his/her criminal background.

There are exceptions to this new requirement, however. Employers may exclude applicants with a criminal history in situations where:

  1. An employer is required by federal or state law to exclude applicants with certain criminal convictions;
  2. A standard fidelity or equivalent bond is required, and an applicant’s conviction of one or more specific offenses would disqualify the applicant from obtaining such a bond; or,
  3. The position is one that requires licensing under the Emergency Medical Services System Act.

This new law will significantly affect the application process for applicants and employers, and should lead to companies hiring the most qualified candidate.