On March 1, 2015, New Jersey’s Opportunity to Compete Act (also known as “Ban the Box”) went into effect. The Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees over 20 calendar weeks that do business, employ people, or take applications for employment in the Garden State. During the initial employment application process, employers are prohibited from requiring applicants to disclose their criminal history on applications, from making any inquiry (oral or written) into an applicant’s criminal record, and posting job advertisements which exclude applicants with a criminal background. However, employers can make such inquiries after the initial process is complete. Additionally, if the applicant voluntarily brings up his or her criminal history during the initial process, the employer can make a limited and reasonable inquiry into the history that has been disclosed.
The Act also provides for several exceptions, including whether the position being sought is in law enforcement, the judiciary, homeland security, corrections or emergency management; where a criminal background check is required by law, where an arrest or conviction may preclude the person from holding such a position as required by law, or where the employer is restricted by law, rule or regulation from engaging in specified business activities based on its employees’ criminal records; or where the position sought is designated as part of a program designed predominantly to encourage the employment of persons who have been arrested or convicted. The Act also includes significant civil penalties for the first, second, and subsequent violations.
While the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development has issued a draft rule (which is currently in the comment period) in order to clarify some portions of the Act, employers should ensure they are compliant with the Act. Employers should review their applications and job advertisements for any questions or information which may be considered violative of the Act. Employers should also review the Act with and consider training its employees or agents responsible for handling the initial employment application process.