Illinois Imposes New Criminal History Check Requirements on Employers

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On March 23, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill (SB1480) that amends the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) to, among other things, impose new requirements on employers that perform criminal history checks on their employees. For employers that currently have a multistate compliance background check system in place, the new Illinois requirements do not pose significant additional compliance obligations, for two reasons: (1) the new Illinois requirements mirror those that currently exist in a plethora of jurisdictions, including California and New York; (2) the new Illinois requirements incorporate steps that employers are already required to take to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Multistate employers will, however, need to review their adverse action notices to ensure that they include language required under the amended IHRA.

New Requirements

Under the newly amended IHRA, employers that perform criminal history checks are required to satisfy the following requirements before basing an employment decision on an individual’s “conviction record”1:

1. Perform an “Interactive” (individualized) Assessment

The employer can base an adverse employment action on an individual’s criminal conviction only if one of the following factors can be met: (1) there is a “substantial relationship”2 between the individual’s criminal offense(s) and the job sought or held; or (2) the employer believes that the individual poses an “unreasonable risk” to the property or safety of the employer’s workforce, customers, or members of the public.If one of these factors exists, the employer must next perform “interactive assessment”—commonly known as an “individualized assessment”—and consider the following mitigating factors:

  • the length of time since the conviction;
  • the number of convictions that appear on the conviction record;
  • the nature and severity of the conviction and its relationship to the safety and security of others;
  • the facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction;
  • the age of the employee at the time of the conviction; and
  • evidence of rehabilitation efforts.

These factors mirror those outlined in the EEOC’s 2012 Enforcement Guidance3—which courts have rejected the EEOC’s ability to enforce4—that have been adopted in a number of “ban the box” laws around the country.5

If, after considering these factors, the employer chooses to move forward with the adverse action, the employer must comply with the IHRA’s new notice requirements.

2. Follow the Adverse Action Notification Process

The employer must notify the individual that their criminal conviction will be the basis for an adverse employment decision, provide the individual with a copy of the criminal history report obtained by the employer, and provide the individual with at least five days to respond with information impugning the accuracy of the conviction record, or some other mitigating evidence. If the individual is unable to challenge the accuracy of the conviction, or provide sufficient evidence of mitigation, the employer can then send the individual a letter informing them of the adverse action being taken. Employers that perform criminal history checks using a third-party “credit reporting agency” will be very familiar with this process.

3. Inform Individuals of Their Right to File a Charge

While the requirements for the pre-adverse action and adverse action notices under the amended IHRA do not materially deviate from the FCRA’s, the IHRA adds two requirements that may require multistate employers to amend their adverse action notices:

  • The IHRA requires employers to include within both their pre-adverse action notice and adverse action notice “the employer’s reasoning for the disqualification.”
  • The IHRA requires employers to state in their adverse action notice that the individual has the right to file a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Employers that use multistate adverse action notices should ensure that their notices subsume these requirements.

Takeaways

Although the amendments to the IHRA may present familiar obligations to multistate employers, employers should not lose sight of the fact that a failure to fully comply with these new requirements could give rise to a charge of discrimination, and the employer’s being forced to deal with the scrutiny of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. This could, in turn, lead to employers facing broader exposure in the form of suits filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Illinois employers that have criminal history screening policies in place should perform a privileged review of their policies and form notices to ensure they satisfy Illinois’ requirements. Employers that do not have policies to guide their criminal history screening process in Illinois should look to implement a policy that will effectuate compliance with the IHRA.

Footnoes

1 A “conviction record” is defined to mean information indicating that a person has been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or other criminal offense, placed on probation, fined, imprisoned, or paroled.

2 Defined as “a consideration of whether the employment position offers the opportunity for the same or a similar offense to occur and whether the circumstances leading to the conduct for which the person was convicted will recur in the employment position.”

3 EEOC, Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Apr. 25, 2012), available at: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/enforcement-guidance-consideration-arrest-and-conviction-records-employment-decisions#VB6a.

4 See, e.g., Texas v. EEOC, 933 F.3d 433 (5th Cir. 2019).

5 These jurisdictions include California, the District of Columbia, New York, Austin (Texas), and Seattle (Washington).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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