New Jersey Senate Bill Aimed at Protecting Job Applicants With Criminal History

Earlier this month, the New Jersey State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced a bill seeking to bar employers from inquiring about the criminal history of job applicants during initial interviews and on job applications.  Captioned as the “Opportunity to Compete Act”, Bill S2124 is aimed at affording job applicants with criminal backgrounds an opportunity to avoid early screening by employers based solely on their troubled pasts.  If the legislation is enacted, employers with 15 or more employees over the course of 20 calendar weeks will be precluded from asking an applicant questions about his/her criminal history or from conducting a criminal background check until after making a conditional job offer.  Employers breaking the law would face fines starting at $1,000 and capping at $10,000 based on the number of violations.  Exemptions from the Opportunity to Compete Act would apply to jobs in which criminal background checks are mandated by law or positions involved in law enforcement and homeland security, amongst others.

Backed by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the bill is designed to assist criminal convicts returning to the labor force to live productive lives and avoid recidivism.  On the other hand, several employer and industry groups have expressed opposition to the bill, fearing that it unfairly restricts a company’s decisions on who to consider for employment and their means of doing so.  However, under the proposed legislation, while employers are prohibited from initially screening for job candidates with criminal backgrounds, they would still be able to later reject such applicants based on a subsequent review of their criminal histories.

As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.

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