New fair chance employment and housing laws in 2021
In the first half of 2021, two states enacted major laws significantly expanding protections against discrimination based on criminal record: Illinois in the area of employment and New Jersey in housing decisions. Several other states also enacted new laws regulating consideration of criminal records in employment and housing, which are summarized below.
Fair chance employment
- On March 23, 2021, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed into law HR1480, a major expansion of the Illinois Human Rights Act to add a new section prohibiting discrimination in employment based on criminal record. Unless otherwise authorized by law, it is a civil rights violation for any employer, employment agency or labor organization to use a conviction record as a basis to refuse to hire or to take any other adverse action unless: 1) there is a substantial relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the employment sought or held, or 2) the granting or continuation of the employment would involve a public safety risk. “Substantial relationship” means that the 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.” In making a determination the employer must consider various factors, including the time since conviction and evidence of rehabilitation. If the employer makes a “preliminary decision” to take adverse action, the employer shall notify the employee in writing, and explain the person’s right to respond. The employer must consider information submitted by the employee before making a final decision, and if the final decision is based “solely or in part” on the person’s conviction record, the employer must notify the person of their reasoning, inform them of whatever avenues of appeal may exist, and of their right to file a charge with the Department of Human Rights.
- Louisiana‘s HB707 prohibits consideration of non-conviction records in employment decisions and requires employers to make an individual assessment of whether an applicant’s criminal record has “a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that may justify denying the applicant the position,” considering certain specified factor relating to the criminal case and the applicant’s subsequent history. This law applies to any public or private employer.
- Maryland enacted a ban-the-box rule applicable to private employers, after the legislature overrode Governor Hogan’s veto. Companies with 15 or more employees may not ask an applicant about their criminal history or conduct a background check at any time before the first in-person interview.
- New Mexico enacted SB2, amending its 1974 law prohibiting certain discrimination in public employment and occupational licensure. (This law was written up in our earlier post on occupational licensure.) The new law bars consideration of convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged or pardoned; juvenile adjudications; or convictions for a crime that “is not recent enough and sufficiently job-related to be predictive of performance in the position sought, given the position’s duties and responsibilities.”
Fair chance housing
- On June 18, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the Fair Chance in Housing Act, the most rigorous state legislation to date limiting consideration of criminal records in housing decisions. During a ceremony to commemorate Juneteenth, he described the new law as a step to “level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing,” explaining that it will bar landlords from asking about criminal history in most instances. The law prohibits consideration of any criminal record at the initial rental application stage, allows only certain records to be considered after a conditional offer is made, and imposes substantive and procedural standards for withdrawal of a conditional offer. Violations may be sanctioned with up to $10,000 in fines and other compliance measures, civil immunity is provided for landlords from claims based on decisions to rent to individuals with a record, and reporting requirements are included. The specific provisions of the new law were described in detail in a June 22 post by David Schlussel.
- Illinois‘ SB1980 requires local housing authorities in Illinois to collect data on the number of applications for federally assisted housing by people with a criminal record, how many applications denied, and how many overturned after a records assessment hearing. The data must be reported to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information authority and to the legislature, and posted on the CJIA website. Per a 2020 law, the Illinois Human Rights Act also prohibits inquiries about, or discrimination in public and private employment and “real estate transactions” based on “arrest record,” defined as “an arrest not leading to a conviction, a juvenile record, or criminal history record information ordered expunged, sealed, or impounded.”
- Louisiana‘s HB374 requires landlords in Louisiana to give notice to prospective tenants if they will consider criminal record information.
More details on these laws are available in the Restoration of Rights Project.
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- The Frontiers of Dignity: Clean Slate and Other Criminal Record Reforms in 2022 - January 10, 2023
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