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24 Aug

The Latest on Background Checks

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New Jersey is the Latest State to Limit Criminal Background Pre-Employment Queries.

When New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie signed the “ban the box” legislation, he put an end to discrimination against job seekers with criminal records. The new “Opportunity to Compete Act” takes effect in March of 2015. This bill limits the number of queries a company can make about a prospective employee’s criminal background. The bill addresses companies with 15 or more employees, which will open many job opportunities for those with a criminal past.

When Governor Christie spoke in Trenton, he commented, “Today we are also going further to reform our criminal justice system by signing legislation that continues with our promise and commitment to give people a second chance.” Christie went on to say, “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.

Other states approving similar legislation in recent years include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico and Rhode Island. The trend to give a “second chance” to job seekers who have served their time and paid their debt to society is growing. NELP
(National Employment Law Project), located in New York, reports similar legislation has been approved in more than 60 cities and counties nationwide.

The New Jersey bill, sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, was introduced to address the issue of employment discrimination against job seekers who have
committed crimes at some time in their life. The Legislature found the use of criminal background checks continues to increase yearly, and the accuracy of these checks is questionable and frequently outdated. The resulting barrier to employment affects thousands of New Jersey residents seeking employment. Included in the bill is the following language:

  • An employer shall not conduct any pre-applicationinquiry regarding any person’s criminal history in connection with any decision regarding employment.
  • An employer shall not make any inquiry regarding acandidate’s criminal history during the application process.
  • Inquiry into and consideration of the criminal history of a candidate may take place after the candidate has been found otherwise qualified and has received a conditional offer of employment.
  • Any information obtained regarding a candidate’s criminal history, whether obtained through an inquiry or by any means other than voluntary oral or written disclosure, shall not be considered in making an employment determination until after a conditional offer has been made.

New Jersey’s action is reminiscent of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s enforcement guidance issued in 2012, encouraging businesses to take the nature and gravity of criminal offenses into consideration, as well as the time that has elapsed since the commission of the offense, when evaluating a prospective employee’s criminal background. Business groups present during the House subcommittee meeting when this was presented sternly criticized the policy.

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