In New Jersey, The Opportunity to Compete Act, otherwise known as the “Ban the Box” bill, restricting employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal background during the initial stages of the application process, became effective March 1, 2015. (For more information, see our article, New Jersey Governor Christie Signs ‘Ban the Box’ Legislation.)

Coverage of “Ban the Box”

The Act applies to employers employing least 15 employees over 20 calendar weeks who do business, employ persons, or take applications for employment within New Jersey. 

The Ban the Box law prohibits employers from: (1) requiring an applicant to complete any employment application that makes any inquiries regarding the applicant’s criminal record; or (2) making any oral or written inquiry regarding an applicant’s criminal record during the “initial employment application process.” This “initial employment application process” begins when an applicant or employer first makes an inquiry to the other party about a prospective position and concludes when the “employer has conducted a first interview, whether in person or by any other means, of an applicant for employment.” 

Additionally, the law prohibits employers from publishing any advertisements or solicitations for employment stating that the employer will not consider any applicant who has been arrested or convicted of one or more offenses. The mandates of this law do not apply if the employment sought or being considered is for, among other things, positions in law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security or emergency management, or positions where a criminal history record background check is required by law, rule or regulation. 

Next Steps

Employers covered by the Act should consider taking the following steps:

  1. Confirm that their employment applications do not include any prohibited inquiries about an applicant’s criminal record.
  2. Review their advertisements (e.g., newspapers, online, or through third party agencies) soliciting applicants, and, unless one of the exceptions apply, remove any language that states applicants will not be considered for employment due to their criminal record.
  3. Train all employees responsible for recruitment and hiring, and revise interview guides, sample questions, and the like, to ensure compliance with the law.
  4. Establish policies and practices for inquiring into an applicant’s criminal record — after the “initial employment application process” is completed.
  5. Establish policies and practices for evaluating and hiring applicants with a criminal record.