When you apply for a job, employers may conduct background checks to see if you fit the position. Employers perform background checks to learn about their job applicants and to protect themselves. If an employee with criminal history hurts others, the employer could be sued.
If an employer wants to conduct background checks, it must check all applicants equally. It can't do a check because of characters such as race, sex, and religion. If the employer has treated you unequally, you can file a claim within 180 days of the alleged violation with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. You need to complete an Employment complainant information sheet before filing.
5 background checks an employer can use:
Employers often do reference checks. It is to make sure the information on your resume or application is correct. For example, they may ask your previous employer for the dates you were employed.
Certain industries might require drug test, such as driving and aviation. Illinois does not encourage or prohibit drug test. But if you are in a drug rehab program, employers can order drug test. However, they can’t do it only because you belong to certain group, such as race or religion. 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
Employers can view your public social media posts to learn about you. However, they cannot ask for your social media password or other account information.
Criminal background checks
Employers can't ask about your arrest record. They 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 fewer than 15 employees
However, there are exceptions. If you are applying to the following jobs, the employer can review your conviction history, even if it has been sealed:
- 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 for criminal history before the job interview. If there is no interview, they can’t ask until a conditional job offer. But they can ask the questions after the conditional offer.
How do employers check criminal history?
Employers can check your criminal background in a few ways. They can get information from the Illinois State Police. They can also search online criminal databases. Some employers hire agencies to search local court records. Other employers use fingerprint checks through the Department of Justice or FBI databases.
What can employers do with my criminal record?
Your criminal history can influence whether an employer hires you. But it can't be the only reason to reject you unless the crime is related to the job. If you are denied because of the criminal history check, the employer must tell you why.
To evaluate the offense, the employer should consider:
- The date of the offense;
- The seriousness of it; and
Federal law requires employers to keep information learned from background checks private.
Employers cannot make decisions based on your credit. They are not allowed to any of the followings:
- Ask about your credit history or report;
- Order your credit report from an agency;
- Refuse to hire or recruit you because of your credit history or report; or
- Discriminate against you because you have filed for bankruptcy.
There are exceptions, too. Employers in Illinois can check your credit if:
- The job involves unsupervised access to cash or assets worth $2,500 or more;
- It is a management position;
- The job involves trade secrets or other confidential information; or
- Your credit history is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). This means that you must have a good credit history to apply for the job. If you want to work in a bank, the employer can ask about your credit.
What can I do if I was denied a job because of a background check?
If the denial is a result of reference check, there is not much you can do.
If the reason is that your social media posts look bad, you can't sue.
If the reason is positive drug test, employer might not be liable. But it's not OK to order the test only because of your race or religion. If the positive result is due to a prescription drug you are taking, you can sue for discrimination against disability.
No employer can ask for your arrest history. But some can check your conviction record. To reject you, your criminal history must be related to the position. If the employer violates the law, you could complain to Department of Labor.
Employers cannot use your credit to make decisions. However, if good credit is required, they might check your credit history. You can bring action in court if there is any violation of law.
Can I refuse to complete a background check?
Most reference checks are fine. You might not want to refuse them.
Social media checks are allowed as long as the employer doesn't ask for your password.
You might refuse to do drug test if you believe it's ordered because of your race, religion or similar traits. You could object to it if it seriously harms your privacy. You might also refuse if drug use is not relevant.
If the employer asks for your arrest record, you can always refuse. If the private employer has 15 or more employees, it cannot ask for the conviction record. In Cook County, most private employers cannot ask for conviction history. If the employer is allowed to ask these questions, but they ask you before interview or conditional offer, you could also refuse.
You can refuse inquiries about your credit. However, there are exceptions where good credit is necessary for the position.
Updated: May 2018