New Jersey Joins Ban the Box Revolution
On August 11, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the “Opportunity to Compete Act,” changing the rights of New Jersey employers to obtain criminal record checks on applicants for employment. The Act applies to New Jersey employers with 15 employees or more over 20 calendar weeks, and becomes effective March 1, 2015.
The Act – a type of legislation commonly referred to as “ban the box” – is similar to laws in other states and municipalities (such as Philadelphia). It prohibits covered employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until after the employer has conducted an interview; made a determination that the applicant is qualified for the position; and selected the applicant as its first choice to fill the position. Once those criteria are satisfied, New Jersey employers are permitted to make criminal background inquiries prior to making a formal offer.
In addition, the Act includes other restrictions. During and after the initial employment application process, employers are prohibited from inquiring into: expunged criminal records; arrests that did not result in conviction; disorderly conduct convictions in which the date of sentence or the release from jail (whichever is later) occurred five or more years earlier; conviction of crimes of the fourth degree (or out-of-state equivalent) in which the date of sentence or the release from jail (whichever is later) occurred 10 or more years earlier. The Act also limits employers from posting job advertisements stating that they will not consider applicants who have been arrested or convicted of a crime, unless the advertisement seeks applicants for one of the exempt positions set forth in the Act.
Positions exempt under the Act include law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security, or emergency management. Employers are also exempt from the Act’s prohibitions if the job applicant is legally prohibited from holding the position based on a conviction or arrest, or if the employer is “restricted from specified business activities” based on the criminal history of its employees.
Covered New Jersey employers should begin the process of changing their hiring procedures and forms, and retraining personnel involved in the hiring process, to comply with the Act. There are, of course, other complexities and nuances.
*This Alert is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.