Senate Committee Advances “Ban the Box” Bill

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On June 5, 2014, the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted 10-1 to approve the Opportunity to Compete Act.  The proposed bill would prohibit employers with fifteen or more employees from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record during the initial employment application process.  Dubbed “ban the box” legislation, the bill would prohibit employers from including a check box on an application asking about the applicant’s criminal background.

The legislation only covers the “initial employment application process,” which is defined as the time period from when the employee first inquires about an employment position through the employee’s first interview with the employer.  Only upon the completion of the first interview would an employer be permitted to inquire about the applicant’s criminal history under this proposed bill.

The bill creates exceptions for positions in law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security, and emergency management.  It also has an exception for any position where a criminal background check is required by law, or where a position is specifically designed to encourage employment of people who have been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under the proposed bill, an employer that violates the act would face a civil penalty of up to $1000 for the first violation, up to $5000 for the second violation, and up to $10,000 for a third or subsequent violation.  The bill does not create a private cause of action.

Connell Foley’s labor and employment law attorneys will continue to track this bill and inform employers of its progress through the Legislature.  If your company has any questions about conducting background checks of applicants or employees, please feel free to contact us for assistance.