“I had worked at a nursing home for 14 years,” LaKesia testified. “I had good reviews, and the residents liked me. But, none of that mattered when a new owner took over. He fired me because of my background. I applied for a waiver, but my job is already gone.”
LaKesia’s firing seems unfair. Why should her background matter if she’d been a good employee for 14 years? State law stipulates that health care facilities cannot hire applicants with a “disqualifying” criminal record, unless the applicant is granted a waiver by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). IDPH conducts thorough evaluations of applicants and their criminal histories before granting waivers.
When she received her waiver, LaKesia thought she would be able to get another job right away. She had years of experience, and now she had the waiver. She soon discovered that many health care providers refuse to hire people with waivers. Now, what was she to do?
LaKesia joined the Criminal Justice Community Leaders Coalition, a group comprised of men and women from CRS’ FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) Project, Visible Voices from Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Most of the members of the coalition have had difficulty finding good jobs since completing their sentences. The community leaders, along with policy and organizing staff, decided to focus their efforts on reducing employment barriers in health care facilities and schools.
Working with Representative Camille Lilly, members of the coalition crafted legislation that will help remove employment barriers in the health care field for men and women who have felony records in their backgrounds. The legislation, now before the Illinois General Assembly, changes the Health Care Registry, administered by IDPH, so that the online system focuses only on whether an applicant is eligible or ineligible for work in a health care facility – not whether they have a waiver.
When the new legislation is passed, men and women who have qualified for waivers will have “green flags” on their Registry web pages instead of the red flags currently used for individuals with records even if they have waivers. Employers can conduct their own background checks on prospective employees, and they will still have the right to hire (or deny) whomever they choose.
The bill will be heard in committee very soon and then must be passed by a full House vote by the deadline of May 8, 2015. Time is short. Send a message to your House member now.
LaKesia – and many others like her – will thank you.