When you apply for a job, employers may conduct background checks to see if you are a good fit for the position. There are five general types of background checks an employer can use:
- Reference check
- Criminal background check
- Credit check
- Drug test
- Social media and internet check
Employers often do reference checks. A reference check is done to make sure the information you put on your resume or job application is correct. For example, an employer may contact your previous supervisors to confirm the dates you were employed.
Criminal background checks
What can employers ask?
Employers can't ask about your arrest record. They also cannot use this information in hiring.
Some employers are prevented from asking whether you've ever been convicted of a crime. This applies to the following employers:
- Private employers in Illinois with 15 or more employees
- Private employers in Cook County and Chicago with less than 15 employees
There are exceptions, however. Employers in certain job categories can review your conviction history, whether or not it has been sealed. Such job categories include:
- Armed security guards,
- Carnival workers,
- Child care workers,
- Health care workers,
- Local government workers,
- Private detectives, and
- School workers.
When can employers ask these questions?
Employers in Cook County and Chicago can't ask any criminal history question before the job interview or before a conditional job offer if no interview occurs. But they can ask the questions after the conditional offer.
How do employers get the information for criminal background checks?
Employers can conduct criminal background checks in a few different ways. All criminal history conviction information collected and maintained by the Illinois State Police must be made available to the public. Employers can search this information. They can also search online criminal databases, such as national and sex offender registries.
Some employers hire Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) to run the background checks. These agencies do manual searches of local court records. Other employers choose to use fingerprint-based background checks through the Department of Justice or FBI databases.
What happens if I'm denied employment because of my criminal history?
If you are denied a job because of the results of the criminal history background check, the employer must tell you why. A record of convictions can influence whether an employer hires you. But it can't be used as the only reason you were rejected unless the employer can relate the crime to the job specifically. To evaluate the offense, the employer should consider:
- The date of the offense,
- The seriousness of it, and
Employers can't do any of the following regarding credit checks:
- Ask about your credit history or report,
- Request your credit report from a consumer reporting agency, or
- Refuse to hire or recruit you because of your credit history or report.
There are exceptions, however. Employers in Illinois can check your credit if:
- The job you're applying for involves unsupervised access to cash or marketable assets worth $2,500 or more;
- The job is managerial;
- The job involves access to trade secrets, personal, or confidential information; or
- Your credit history is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). This means that employers such as banks may be able to ask about your credit if having a good credit history is part of the qualifications of the job you're applying for.
You may not be discriminated against because you have filed for bankruptcy.
Employers can require you to do a drug and alcohol test after the job is offered. You don't have to pay for the test, though.
Social media and internet checks
An employer cannot ask for your social media password or account information to access your profile. However, employers can learn about you by viewing public social media posts.
Why do employers do background checks?
Employers conduct background checks to learn more about their job applicants and to protect themselves from liability. If an employee is hurt by a co-worker on the job, and the incident was related to the co-worker's criminal history, the employer could be sued.
Who can be background checked?
If an employer wants to conduct background checks for job applicants, it must check all applicants equally. That is, an employer can't background check job applicants just because they belong to a specific racial, ethnic, or another group.
What can employers do with information found during background checks?
Employers can use information found during background checks in hiring decisions. An employer can decide to hire or not to hire you based on what it finds out.
Your criminal history can influence whether an employer hires you. But it can't be used as the only reason you were rejected unless the employer can relate the crime to the job specifically. To evaluate the offense, the employer should take into account the date of the offense, the seriousness of it, as well as rehabilitation.
Federal law requires employers to keep information learned from background checks private.
What should I do if I think I have been discriminated against?
If you think you've been discriminated against in the hiring process, you can file a claim within 180 days of the alleged violation with the Illinois Department of Human Rights by completing an Employment complainant information sheet.
Updated: June 2017