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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Photo of Steven J. Pearlman Steven J. Pearlman

Steven J. Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and Co-Head of the Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group and the Restrictive Covenants, Trade Secrets & Unfair Competition Group.

Steven’s practice covers the full spectrum of employment law, with a particular…

Steven J. Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and Co-Head of the Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group and the Restrictive Covenants, Trade Secrets & Unfair Competition Group.

Steven’s practice covers the full spectrum of employment law, with a particular focus on defending companies against claims of employment discrimination, retaliation and harassment; whistleblower retaliation; restrictive covenant violations; theft of trade secrets; and wage-and-hour violations. He has successfully tried cases in multiple jurisdictions, and defended one of the largest Illinois-only class actions in the history of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He also secured one of only a few ex parte seizures orders that have been issued under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, and obtained a world-wide injunction in federal litigation against a high-level executive who jumped ship to a competitor.

Reporting to boards of directors, their audit committees, CEOs and in-house counsel, Steven conducts sensitive investigations and has testified in federal court. His investigations have involved complaints of sexual harassment involving C-suite officers; systemic violations of employment laws and company policies; and fraud, compliance failures and unethical conduct.

Steven was recognized as Lawyer of the Year for Chicago Labor & Employment Litigation in the 2023 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. He is a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.  Chambers describes Steven as an “outstanding lawyer” who is “very sharp and very responsive,” a “strong advocate,” and an “expert in his field.” Steven was 1 of 12 individuals selected by Compliance Week as a “Top Mind.” Earlier in his career, he was 1 of 5 U.S. lawyers selected by Law360 as a “Rising Star Under 40” in the area of employment law and 1 of “40 Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch” selected by Law Bulletin Publishing Company. Steven is a Burton Award Winner (U.S. Library of Congress) for “Distinguished Legal Writing.”

Steven has served on Law360’s Employment Editorial Advisory Board and is a Contributor to He has appeared on Bloomberg News (television and radio) and Yahoo! Finance, and is regularly quoted in leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has engaged Steven to serve as lead counsel on amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit courts of appeal. He was appointed to serve as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois in employment litigation matters. He has presented with the Solicitor of the DOL, the Acting Chair of the EEOC, an EEOC Commissioner, Legal Counsel to the EEOC and heads of the SEC, CFTC and OSHA whistleblower programs. He is also a member of the Sedona Conference, focusing on trade secret matters.