Criminal charges can be life-altering in a way that anyone unfamiliar with the process may not truly understand. The loss of freedom and autonomy is devastating, but a second chance could be coming for Illinoisans with criminal records.
SB 1480 is part of a bill package proposed by Illinois’ Black Caucus and accentuates existing legislation to protect people with criminal histories from discrimination in the workplace. Existing laws like ban the box laws offer some protection for new hires, but employers can still perform background checks on employees later.
This new law protects prospective employees from discrimination and establishes protocols for termination to prevent unjust treatment by employers. If an employer fires their employee for having a criminal record, they must first prove that the crimes committed had a direct correlation to the job.
For example, if someone is accused of child molestation, the school can fire them for having a criminal record if they work directly with children. Or, someone who committed fraud could be fired from their job as a bank teller.
In general, no employer can fire someone for having a criminal past without evidence that the crime has a substantial relationship to the job. Employers cannot dismiss an applicant simply because of their criminal record when hiring.
When a hiring manager reviews an application, they must consider the amount of time since the crime was committed. IF the applicant has served their sentence and shown evidence of complete rehabilitation, then they should not be discriminated against.
In addition to this guidance, companies will be required to send a letter to applicants that include their reasons for the denial. If an applicant feels as though they were denied unjustly because of their criminal record, they may file a discrimination charge.
Support and Opposition
There are similar bills in Wisconsin, New York, and other states, but making these changes has not come without problems. Many members of the legislature find these measures questionable and believe that the language in the bill may be misleading.
The “substantial relationship” section of the law does not provide extensive support or justification that would give lawmakers and the court system an adequate precedent for cases that may happen in the future. The fear is that employers will feel pressured into accepting job applicants who could jeopardize safety.
On the other side, supporters of the bill believe that granting equal protection under the law for those with a criminal record is a significant step in the right direction. Research from advocacy groups shows that anti-discrimination laws would help close the gap between Black and African American candidates and their white peers.
Because Black and African American people are incarcerated at higher rates, getting jobs can be impossible. This contributes to mass unemployment and poverty rates among minority groups – a disparity that plagues Illinois.
What Happens Now?
Now that the law is in effect, people will be able to live in federally assisted housing and other benefits regardless of their criminal record. So far, at least eight people have filed discrimination reports, and three were related to arrest records.
The concern shared by advocacy groups and supporters alike is that while this law will make employment accessible to all, it may not have the desired effect on companies. Instead of promoting inclusive hiring, companies may instead use avoidance strategies. In other words, companies may use underhanded or secretive recruitment efforts instead of job postings to eliminate the possibility of an applicant with a criminal record.
Contact Johnson Law Group for legal guidance during the criminal process.