In the face of an expanding national movement to bar employers from asking prospective employees about their criminal histories on job applications, New Jersey becomes the newest state to adopt a so-called “Ban the Box” law.

On August 12, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law the Opportunity to Compete Act, which will take effect March 1, 2015. Under the Act, both private and public employers are prohibited from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal history on job applications and during the “initial employment application process.”

However, after the initial interview has been conducted and an applicant is determined to be qualified and selected as the employer’s “first choice to fill the position,” questions about an applicant’s criminal convictions are permissible. Similarly, the Act does not limit an employer’s ability to run criminal background checks or refuse to hire individuals with certain criminal convictions after the initial application process has concluded. The Act also includes an exception for voluntary disclosures of criminal history.

The Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees and affords protection to external candidates, as well as current employees seeking an internal promotion or transfer.

Fortunately, the Act does not create a private right of action. However, it does subject an employer to civil penalties of between $1,000 and $10,000 per violation.

Before the law takes effect, New Jersey employers should review their employment applications and hiring procedures to make sure they are in compliance with the new law.