Job applications have always included a line item asking applicants to divulge whether or not they have a criminal background. As of March 1, 2015, the Opportunity to Compete Act went into effect in New Jersey. Also known as the “ban-the-box” movement, New Jersey employers are no longer allowed to inquire about an applicant’s criminal past during the initial application process.
The intention of the Act is to give people the opportunity for a fresh start. If they’ve paid their debt to society, legislators reason, they should have the right to compete with others who have the same experience and skills. You, as the hiring employer, therefore, should not be permitted to have access to information about applicants’ criminal convictions until later in the hiring process.
New Jersey companies, with 15 or more employees, should be aware of their obligations under this new law. You may not post job advertisements indicating that anyone who has been convicted of a crime will not be considered for the position. You may not force anyone applying for a job with your company to fill out any forms that require them to offer information about their criminal past.
Good news for employers, Ban-the-Box only applies to the very initial stages of the hiring process. The job application and first interview are covered by this new law. After the first interview, and even if the employer makes a conditional job offer, they are permitted to do a criminal background check. Information garnered from that investigation can be used to deny an applicant employment.
There are certain circumstances when an employer is allowed to inquire about an applicant’s criminal background. For example, if your business is related to corrections, law enforcement, the court system, emergency management and homeland security issues, you are permitted to do a criminal background checks on applicants. Also, if the applicant makes mention of a criminal history during the initial hiring process, you are permitted to make a “limited inquiry” regarding the information they provided, according to the Act.
Any employer who violates New Jersey’s Opportunity to Compete Act may face civil penalties: $1,000 for a first offense; $5,000 for a second offense; and $10,000 for subsequent offenses.
If you have questions regarding Ban-the-Box or any other employment issues, contact the experienced lawyers at Begelman & Orlow, P. C. for sound legal guidance.