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New Jersey joins states limiting pre-employment criminal background queries


New Jersey joined 12 other states Monday when Gov. Chris Christie signed “ban the box” legislation limiting queries firms can make about job applicants’ criminal backgrounds.

Provisions of New Jersey’s “The Opportunity to Compete Act,” which apply to firms with 15 or more employees, and take effect in March 2015, include:

• An employer cannot require an applicant to complete any job application that makes inquiries about his criminal record during the initial employment process.

• An employer can make a “reasonable, limited” inquiry if information is voluntarily provided.

• An employer can inquire, and consider an applicant’s criminal history, after it has conducted an interview, determined the applicant is qualified, and selected him as its first choice to fill the position.

• An employer cannot make any decision based on an arrest that did not result in a conviction.

Gov. Christie, a Republican, said in a statement, “This is a state that believes that every life is precious and that no life is beyond salvation, that everyone deserves a second chance in New Jersey, if they’ve made a mistake. So, today, we are banning the box and ending employment discrimination. And this is going to make a huge difference for folks who have paid their debts to society, who want to start their lives over again and are going to have an opportunity to do just that in our state.”

New Jersey joins California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico and Rhode Island, which have also approved comparable legislation as of July, according to the New York-based National Employment Law Project. Nationwide, more than 60 cities and counties have also approved such legislation, according to NELP.

On the federal level, in 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued updated enforcement guidance on employers’ use of arrest and conviction records that called on firms to consider the nature and gravity of the offense when evaluating criminal backgrounds, the time that has elapsed since the offense and the nature of the potential job. The policy was harshly criticized by business groups and others during a House subcommittee meeting in June.