Senators Sandra Bolden Cunningham, M. Teresa Ruiz, and Raymond J. Lesniak introduced on Feb. 5 legislation that would end a discriminatory practice that blocks ex-offenders from finding work, while improving the economic viability, health and security of New Jersey’s communities and reducing recidivism rates throughout the state.
“Across the state, law-abiding ex-offenders are finding that their past mistakes serve as a barrier to employment in this already tough economy,” said Cunningham (D-Hudson). “One in four Americans has a criminal record that could show up in a routine background check. With the increased usage of these checks, qualified applicants - many of whom have already paid the price for their past infractions – cannot even get their foot in the door to be considered for jobs.”
“New Jersey’s Opportunity to Compete Act” would limit the criminal history inquiries allowed by New Jersey employers when interviewing applicants for a job within their company or organization. The bill would “ban the box” – the check box on most employment applications that requires applicants to disclose whether they have a criminal conviction in their background. Often employers will throw out an application with a checked box rather than evaluating the applicant on his or her merits. This bill would require that employers not inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until after the applicant has been found otherwise qualified and a conditional offer of employment has been made.
The bill would allow employers to consider criminal records for a reasonable period of time after the applicant has been released from custody or after sentencing if the person was never in custody. An employer may consider in their hiring decisions: indictable offense convictions for ten years following the release from custody or end of sentencing; disorderly person convictions and municipal ordinance violations for five years following the release from custody or end of sentencing; and any pending criminal charges.
This legislation would not limit an employer from considering criminal records occurring within any timeframe that involve serious violent crimes including murder, attempted murder, arson, sex offenses requiring registry, and acts of terrorism.
The legislation will also provide applicants with the right to appeal a denial of employment. After receiving notice that the conditional employment offer has been withdrawn, applicants will have 10 business days to challenge the accuracy of the criminal history and present additional evidence of rehabilitation or other factors for the employer to consider. If the employer has yet to fill the position, they will be required to consider the additional information.