Illinois Governor Aims to Limit Consideration of Criminal Histories in Employment Screening

By Michael Klazema on 11/5/2013

A new administrative order from the Illinois state government has called for an amendment to job applications in all public sectors. The directive coming down from the desk of Governor Pat Quinn, goes along with a recent trend of "ban the box" campaigns, which seek to reduce the amount of consideration paid to criminal histories in the earlier stages of the employment screening process.

Effective immediately, the order dictated that job applications used for all posts within the state government be altered to remove any sections that ask about an applicant's criminal history. Furthermore, the order dictated numerous changes in the state job interview process that will go hand in hand with the application shifts in limiting consideration of criminal history in the vetting of potential government employees.

Governor Quinn's reasoning is simple, and is something that has been heard often in similar "ban the box" campaigns or other efforts to pull focus away from the existence of a criminal record during a job application process. He believes that ex-criminal offenders should not be punished for life for an offense they committed years ago, and that an applicant who has made an effort to turn over a new leaf and become a law-abiding citizen should be given the same chance at employment as anyone else. In addition, Quinn has stated that he finds honest and steady employment to be the best weapon in assuring that former criminals do not fall back into patterns of illegal activity.

Certainly, Governor Quinn's opinion on criminal history and how it connects to employment fits very well alongside the beliefs and guidelines proliferated by the EEOC. Hiring managers - whether part of a state government or not - are not allowed to reject a potential employee simply because that person has a criminal record. Any employer must complete a more personalized and discerning look into an applicant's background check in order to reject them on  grounds of one or more criminal records. In other words, an arrest or criminal record alone won't do it. However, a history of major criminal convictions, especially if they are recent, and related to aspects of the job, would usually constitute adequate reasoning for a hiring manager's decision to reject an applicant.

While Quinn's directive did not expressly prohibit the use of criminal background checks as a component of the employment screening process, it did limit such uses notably. For instance, the order directed that new release forms be drawn up either asking permission to look into an applicant's criminal history or encouraging the applicant to willfully divulge their own criminal history.

Furthermore, Governor Quinn's order states that criminal convictions should only be taken into account if the job at hand either prohibits ex-convicts from employment or relates in some relevant way to the applicant's conviction history. For instance, an applicant with a record of DUI convictions would likely be rejected outright for any government job involving driving, but would still have to be considered for a desk job.

The Governor Quinn's directive has received praise, not least because it goes hand in hand with EEOC guidelines or that it aims so hopefully to help former criminals find their feet. Quinn's belief that employment helps to "reduce recidivism" among ex-criminals permeates the Administrative Order document. The Governor's idealistic thought is that ex-criminals given a chance to prove themselves in a good job would be less likely to commit crimes in the future, which would in turn keep crime levels down, keep prison attendance low, and reduce the cost of such facilities to Illinois taxpayers.

However, Illinois's government should be cautious about seriously limiting the freedom of their state government's institutions and employees to conduct background checks. Asking for permission to delve into a criminal record is one thing; reducing the prevalence of background checks is quite another. While state governments are right to give former criminals another chance, an order like Quinn's isn't enough to merit an off-guard employer.


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