Employers Cannot Always Check Your Credit

Illinois, like many other states, has a law that generally prevents companies from checking employees’ credit (be it credit report, history…) as a condition of employment. The Employee Credit Privacy Act, 820 ILCS 70/1 generally prohibits employers from refusing to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an employee because of the individual’s credit history or report. 820 ILCS 70/10(a)(1). In fact, employers cannot even inquire about an applicant’s or employee’s credit history in most circumstances.

There are exceptions to the rule.  An employer is allowed to learn an employee has a “satisfactory credit history” only for an “established bona fide occupational requirement of a particular position.” 820 ILCS 70/10(b). For example, if the duties of the job position include unsupervised access to cash or marketable assets at $2,500 or more, the company is allowed to confirm the employee’s credit is “satisfactory.” 820 ILCS 70/10(b)(2).  Another exception is when the employee’s job position has “access to personal or confidential information…” 820 ILCS 70/10(b)(5). An individual harmed by a violation in the act is permitted to bring a civil action to obtain damages, injunctive relief, and costs and attorney fees in bringing the action.

Ohle v. the Neiman Marcus Group

In this case, Neiman Marcus located in DuPage County declined to hire an employee because her credit was not satisfactory. Neiman Marcus claimed the employee had access to customers’ personal and confidential information, namely taking credit card applications and dropping the applications in a secure location.  Therefore, the company argued, it was allowed to inquire into her credit history.

Credit Card Application

However, the Court found the employee did not “access” to the confidential credit card information by merely taking a credit card application and dropping it in a secure box. If this were the case, most retail sales clerks in the entire state would be exempt from the statute designed to protect these very employees. Therefore, as the employee was not covered by any of the Act’s exemptions, Neiman Marcus violated the Employee Credit Privacy Act by obtaining her credit report.

If you believe an employer has improperly requested your credit information, terminated you for credit information, or discriminated against you for any reason, contact an employment attorney as soon as possible.