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Proposed Law Would Ban Criminal 'Check Box' on Job Applications

Ex-offenders far less likely to land job interviews

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.

Rodney Pollard February 08, 2013 at 12:41 PM
It is about time that lawmakers is coming up with some sensible legislation that will hopefully put an end to what has been a practice of legalized discrimination. It is a shame and a travesty to deny people who have made a mistake, paid dearly, and have learned from it and in some cases have become a better person as a result of it. Is being denied essentially the right to live. It is no wonder that the crime rates are as high as it is. My kudos go to those legislators who are sponsoring and supports this bill. Thank you very much.
Jon February 09, 2013 at 11:48 AM
sorry but as a business owner I have a right to know who Im hiring, and I get the choice on whether to hire him or not , and your past speaks to your character,, Im not saying people don't deserve a second chance, but if you want a second chance best to come clean with your past
A. Newarker February 09, 2013 at 09:41 PM
So now instead of competing against other people that have obeyed the law I have to have harden criminals thrown inti the mix? No wonder so many people in the last ten years have gone postal in their place of employment.
Paul Milo (Editor) February 10, 2013 at 06:27 AM
This is tough -- you can understand wanting to help people trying to do the right thing by getting jobs instead of returning to crime. But at the same time, shouldn't employers have the right to favor an applicant who's never been in trouble over one who has?
Mike from Newark February 10, 2013 at 04:37 PM
I agree with you Paul, there is no good answer. Maybe a compromise could be asking the question "Have you been convicted of a crime within the last five years?" ... Obviously the idea would have to worked out, but at least it gives the individual an opportunity to reduce the burden of their past after some period of time of proving their committed to trying to do the right things.
sandra johnson May 12, 2013 at 06:12 PM
I am not sure I understand your comment or maybe you don't understand what you are objecting to..This law will not deny you information on an applicants past, it would give all applicants the opportunity to have a face to face interview. Background checks are legal and along with an interview it would give an employee more information about a perspective employee. Sounds like a win-win situation! When you think about the millions of people in the U.S. and learn that 1 out 200 are being denied the opportunity to become employed and then not want to change that....It says to me you are ok with the the level of of poverty in this country. I sure would like for someone to choose a fitting term that would describe and label those of you who by your own imagined fears use forms of humiliation to keep a large segment of the population from competing equally........ It's true the more people that can be deemed less than and kept at the bottom with little power leaves more power to be distributed to those at the top.
sandra johnson May 12, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Don"t ya think that's tab bit on the dramatic side? I didn't get the impression you would now be completing against loads of harden criminals although your comment certainly is slanted that way. Then to infer that this has or will cause a worker to go postal - Really? Or are you really wanting just to limit the number of people you have to compete with? In your view, should the deck be stacked in favor of the good guys because you are more and the others are less deserving? Well, for the sake for drama~ Ever wonder why Jesus picked the thief dying on the cross next to him, be the first he sent to heaven?
sandra johnson May 12, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Yeah, your right it is tough to want to give help to everyone who needs it and at the same time giving justice to only the favored ones! I remember that kind of thinking during the civil rights movement. It was a confusing then too.
sandra johnson May 12, 2013 at 08:51 PM
I have to ask why not 3 years or 13 years ?? What right does society have~ to be another judge and jury or an extension of the justice system after the debt to society has been paid. Society has been paid. If you owe no debts to Sears because you paid them, then are asked, have you ever had a debt at Sears and if so~ you would automatically be denied credit for a period of time, wouldn't that be unfair? If you were in that situation, wouldn't you like to have the opportunity to explain what you bought and how you paid for it and you no longer had a debt at Sears. Then ask to be considered for credit now~ not given but to be among the considered.
sandra johnson May 12, 2013 at 09:31 PM
I agree and do as well and thank you for your clear and sensible attitude that will aid in lowering crime and poverty, keeping families together, building better communities, and making this a better and safer place to live for everyone!!!

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