Last month, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will keep prospective employers from raising questions or concerns about an applicant’s criminal background during the interview process, New Jersey criminal defense lawyers report. The legislation, A-1999, is also known as the Opportunity to Compete Act, which will open the door for ex-cons who are trying to turn their lives around after serving their sentences.
Typically, a paper or online application for employment will include a section regarding prior criminal activity or an existing criminal record. Applicants can check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to indicate whether they have a record, and can choose to elaborate further. If the ‘yes’ box is checked, it is likely that a prospective employer will ask some questions in an interview, or may even push the application into the discard pile without a second glance. But now, the new “ban-the-box” bill will make an immediate discarding illegal.
The bill’s final, approved version has been modified to meet the requests of business and industry groups. The most important change that the bill’s sponsors made was to strike out language that would lead to a private cause of action, should an employer be found in violation of the law. The language now bans this action explicitly, reading “nothing set forth in this act shall be construed as creating or establishing a standard of care or duty for employers with respect to any law other than this act. Evidence that an employer has violated, or is alleged to have violated, the provisions of this act, shall not be admissible in any legal proceeding with respect to any law or claim other than a proceeding to enforce the provisions of this act.”
The New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, a tort reform group, say that New Jersey’s model will be an example for the rest of the country. The box ban is in place without causing liability conflicts or concerns. Employers who violate this new law will be subject to civil penalties executed by the state. A first violation will lead to a $1,000 fine, a second violation carries a $5,000 fine, and the third and subsequent violations will cost $10,000 in fines for those who choose not to comply.
Supporters of the bill say that banning the box will allow “people who have rebuilt their lives” to have a fighting chance in today’s tough job market. By admitting to their criminal history, no matter what the crimes or the timeframe, past offenders can be subject to lifelong discrimination.
Although the bill will protect applicants who answer ‘yes’ from immediate disqualification, the Senate added some amendments to allow employers to make inquiries in the interview process. First, an employer can ask about criminal history once the initial application interview process is complete. A second amendment lets the employer ask about criminal history if the applicant brings it up. Other changes allow the employer to ask anything about an existing record, not including convictions that have been expunged or erased.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal defense lawyers represent convicts who are trying to get their lives on track, and those who are facing criminal charges. Contact an HCK criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and future options today.