Illinois Expands Fair-Hiring Law, Ensuring Private Employers “Ban the Box”

Washington, DC—Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today signed legislation known as “ban the box,” making Illinois the fifth state in the nation to require both public and private employers to remove questions about an applicant’s criminal record from job applications. The legislation does not prohibit such questions but only postpones them to later in the hiring process, giving job applicants with records a fair chance to be considered on their qualifications first.


“Cities and states across the country recognize the need to expand fair-hiring policies not only in the public sector but in the private sector as well.  These policies make good sense, and many private companies have already adopted fair-hiring practices,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. National corporations that have removed questions about criminal history from their job applications include Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.


Illinois has had a ban-the-box policy for state government jobs in place since 2013, adopted via executive order. By expanding its fair-chance employment policy to private companies, Illinois joins Minnesota, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, as well as cities like Buffalo, Seattle, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark, and Rochester. A similar bill is now under consideration in New York City. Adding to the list, Washington, D.C.’s city council passed legislation this past week that is expected to be signed by the mayor. New Jersey’s legislature passed the Opportunity to Compete Act last month, which applies to the private sector as well and awaits Governor Chris Christie’s signature.


Throughout the country, policymakers from both sides of the aisle are working to become “smart on crime” by reducing criminal justice spending and recidivism at the same time that they increase public safety. An estimated 70 million U.S. adults have a criminal record that may prevent them from finding gainful employment. Creating a fair chance for all job seekers to be considered first on their qualifications helps open opportunities for marginalized communities and ensures the broadest applicant pool for employers. A total of 12 states have implemented fair-chance policies, along with almost 70 cities and counties.


In Illinois, advocates from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the Safer Foundation, and One Northside worked with legislators to expand the successful state policy to include private employers.


“For millions throughout Illinois seeking employment, no matter how educated, how qualified, or how much of an asset they may be for a position, they have been denied jobs before their qualifications are even considered by an employer in the private sector,” said Todd Belcore, staff attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. 

Arnold Julien, board member of One Northside’s Violence Prevention Coalition, which works to create equal opportunity for all job applicants in Illinois, said, “This monumental victory means more Illinoisans will have an ample opportunity to become positive, productive, tax-paying community members.”


This sentiment was shared by Anthony Lowery, director of policy and advocacy at the Safer Foundation. “I would like to congratulate the Illinois General Assembly for having the courage to pass the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act,” said Lowery. “Eliminating barriers to employment increases opportunities and provides a real second chance for people with records in our state.”


The movement recently received another major boost when it was embraced by President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.  The President’s Task Force 90-day progress report, which lays out a comprehensive plan to address the racial and economic inequities that plague  boys and young men of color, recommends “implement[ing] reforms to promote successful reentry, including hiring practices, such as ‘Ban the Box,’ which give applicants a fair chance and allows employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce.”


In addition to the win in Illinois, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is poised to sign an executive order delaying conviction-history inquiries for public employment. LA Voice, a faith-based coalition dedicated to improving the lives of all Angelenos, partnered with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Curren Price, Jr. to introduce fair-chance legislation in Los Angeles.


To help advocates and policymakers tap into this national momentum and initiate fair-chance campaigns in their communities, NELP has released a new comprehensive online toolkit.

Emma Stieglitz
(646) 200-5307

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