Illinois set to become fifth state to cover criminal record discrimination in its fair employment law
NOTE: Governor Pritzker signed S1480 into law on March 23.
In our recent report on criminal record reforms enacted in 2020, we noted that there were only four states that had fully incorporated criminal record into their fair employment law as a prohibited basis of discrimination. These states (New York, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and California) provide that employers can only disqualify a person based on their record if it meets a specific standard, such as being related to the work in question or posing an unreasonable risk to public safety. Illinois will become the fifth state to take this important step as soon as Governor Pritzker signs S1480.
Illinois has been working up to this, having amended its Human Rights Act in 2019 to prohibit employment discrimination based on “an arrest not leading to a conviction, a juvenile record, or criminal history record information ordered expunged, sealed, or impounded.” With S1480, Illinois has now taken the final step of incorporating criminal record fully into the law’s structure, which includes authorization to file a lawsuit in the event administrative enforcement is unsatisfactory. A preliminary analysis of the new Illinois law indicates that it now offers more protection for more people with a criminal record in the employment context than any state in the Nation other than California.
The provisions of the Illinois bill, enrolled and sent to the governor for signature on February 12, are described below. We then compare them with the laws in the four other states that incorporate criminal record into their fair employment law. This post notes the handful of additional states that have fortified their record-related employment protections in recent years, then summarizes relevant reforms that were enacted in 2020.