For anyone convicted of a significant crime, one of the biggest barriers to rehabilitation is a small check box.
That box, which appears on virtually all job applications, asks whether the applicant has a criminal history. Having to check that box, most agree often makes it impossible for the applicant to even get an interview for a job.
A new law proposed Thursday by state Senators Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Ray Lesniak would end what they described as a “discriminatory practice” against ex-offenders.
“Across the state, law-abiding ex-offenders are finding that their past mistakes serve as a barrier to employment in this already tough economy,” Cunningham (D-Hudson) said in a statement. “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.”
The city of Newark, as well as Atlantic City, already have “ban the box” laws affecting hiring within those communities. The proposed legislation, the Opportunity to Compete Act, would take that law statewide.
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. 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.
“People who are unemployed already face a number of barriers when it comes to finding a job. For those who have a criminal conviction in their background, obtaining gainful employment is that much more difficult,” said Ruiz. "We have to give everyone, including those who have an infraction on their record and have paid their debt to society, a fair opportunity to find employment.”
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 10 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.
Similar legislation is already in place in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts,Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington DC. Additionally, over 40 cities and counties including Atlantic City and Newark have passed some sort of “ban the box” reforms.
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