Employers Take Notice – New Jersey has “Banned the Box”

On August 11, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law “The Opportunity To Compete Act” (the “Act”)[1]. In adopting that law, the legislature specifically found that “removing obstacles to employment for people with criminal records provides economic and social opportunities to a large group of people living in New Jersey, increasing the productivity, health and safety of New Jersey communities.” The new law is applicable to employers within the State with fifteen or more employees over 20 calendar weeks, but excludes persons employed in domestic service in a person’s home.

Criminal Record Inquiries Prohibited During the Initial Employment Application Process:  The new law provides that an employer shall not place any advertisement soliciting applicants for employment that explicitly states the employer will not consider an applicant who has a criminal record unless a criminal background check is required by law or regulation, or a law or regulation would restrict an employer’s ability to engage in specified business activities based on the employees’ criminal records. The new law also provides that during the initial employment application process an employer (1) shall not require an applicant for employment to complete an employment application that make inquiries regarding the applicant’s criminal record and (2) shall not ask any questions regarding the applicant’s criminal record. The initial employment application process begins when the applicant first makes an inquiry about a prospective position and ends when the employer has conducted a first interview of the applicant.

Following the initial employment application process, an employer may require an applicant for employment to complete an employment application that makes inquiries about the applicant’s criminal record, and may ask questions regarding the applicant’s criminal record. An employer may refuse to hire an applicant for employment based upon the applicant’s criminal record, unless the applicant’s criminal record was expunged or erased by executive pardon. It should also be noted that if an applicant voluntarily discloses information about his/her criminal record during the initial employment application process, the employer may ask additional questions about the applicant’s criminal record during that process.

Penalties for Violations: Although the law does not provide a private cause of action against an employer who violates its provisions, substantial fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 may be imposed by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development.

Moving Forward: The Act’s requirements take effect on March 1, 2015. We recommend that employers review their recruitment, application and hiring practices and undertake all changes necessary to ensure that inquiries into criminal histories are eliminated from the initial employment application process.

[1] Assembly Bill No. 1999

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