Emanuel pushes reform of job applications for felons

By Evan Garcia

The ordinance was proposed Wednesday to the Chicago City Council.
The ordinance was proposed Wednesday to the Chicago City Council.

Starting in January, nearly all employers in Illinois will have to remove questions relating to an applicant’s criminal background from their job applications.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing to extend this law to include Chicago companies with fewer than 15 employees. He proposed the ordinance to City Council Wednesday.

Gov. Pat Quinn approved the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act last July, which applies to private companies with 15 or more employees.

Employers will no longer be able to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history on job applications.

Companies can still run criminal background checks after the application process when a potential employee is considered for a job. Supporters of the legislation say its goal is to increase the likelihood of former criminals finding work.

The Safer Foundation is one of those supporters. The Chicago nonprofit trains and acclimates ex-convicts so they can enter or rejoin the workforce.

“This legislation will give prospective employees access to the interview process,” said Claudia Banks, director of marketing for the foundation.   “That’s closer than they would have gotten if an employer rejected them based on their application.”

Not everyone is on board with the mayor’s effort.

The Illinois Manufacturer’s Association was one of several trade associations that worked with policymakers in Springfield to shape the state law.

“Making small businesses exempt from widespread labor laws like this is standard,” said Mark Denzler, vice president of the trade group. “Employers with fewer than 15 employees don’t have the human resources manpower to make these changes.”

Emanuel’s proposal creates an undue burden for small businesses located in Chicago because small companies outside the city will not have to revise their job applications, Denzler said.

He points out that the option for an employer to check criminal backgrounds after the application process was a hinge point for employers negotiating with state politicians.

“Giving a second opportunity to people is an important American value,” Denzler said. “But employers also have a right to vet employees and know about their criminal history, especially in the retail industry where companies might want to know if an applicant had been charged with retail theft.”

The City of Chicago removed the question from municipal job applications in 2007.