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Cook County, Illinois Amends Human Rights Ordinance To Limit Credit Checks
Friday, May 29, 2015

Cook County, Illinois enacted a bill (No. 15-3088) that amends the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance to restrict employers from asking about or otherwise considering a prospective or current employee’s credit history in employment decisions.  The new ordinance took effect yesterday.  It is nearly identical to laws in Illinois and Chicago that were enacted a few years ago, and falls in line with a growing trend around the country.

Unless otherwise noted below, the new ordinance applies to private employers that have a principal place of business, or “do business,” in Cook County, as well as prospective and current employees of such employers, whether for paid or unpaid employment.  The new ordinance also expansively defines “credit history” as an individual’s record of past borrowing and repaying, including information about late payments and bankruptcy.

Much like the existing Illinois and Chicago laws, the new ordinance does not apply to positions:

  • requiring bonding or other security under state or federal law;

  • allowing custody of, or unsupervised access to, cash or marketable assets (as defined by the law) valued at $2,500 or more;

  • affording signatory power over business assets of $100 or more per transaction;

  • involving managerial responsibility for setting the direction or control of the business;

  • providing access to personal or confidential information, financial information, trade secrets, or state or national security information, as defined by the law;

  • meeting criteria set forth in the administrative rules of the U.S. or Illinois Department of Labor that define the circumstances under which a satisfactory credit history is a bona fide occupational requirement; or

  • where the use of credit history is otherwise required by, or exempt under, other applicable law.

Also like the Illinois and Chicago laws, the new ordinance exempts various institutions from its coverage, including:

  • any bank holding company, financial holding company, bank, savings bank, savings and loan association, credit union, or trust company authorized to do business under U.S. or Illinois law (including subsidiaries and affiliates of such institutions);

  • any company authorized to engage in any kind of insurance or surety business under the Illinois Insurance Code (including employees and agents acting on behalf of such institutions);

  • any entity defined as a debt collector under federal, state, or county law; and

  • any municipal law enforcement, investigative unit, or municipal agency requiring use of credit history.

In addition to Illinois, nine other states—specifically, California, Maryland, Connecticut, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado, and Nevada—have restricted the use of credit history for purposes of employment.  And, like Chicago and now Cook County, Madison, Wisconsin, and New York City have enacted ordinances limiting employer credit checks.

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