Governor Christie Signs the New Law Restricting Employers Access to Criminal Backgrounds
On Wednesday, August 13, 2014, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed into law one of the most comprehensive “ban-the-box” bills in the country. Under the new legislation, employers with 15 or more employees are prohibited from inquiring about a job applicant’s prior criminal history until after they are prepared to make a job offer to the individual.
Nothing in the law per se requires employers to hire ex-felons, or those with criminal arrest histories, however, the bill does give applicants an opportunity to make a presentation to prospective employers as to their skills and qualifications on the merits as opposed to being automatically disqualified because of a prior criminal history.
The legislation goes even further for those with a history of minor criminal offenses. Employers would be prohibited from considering arrest and convictions histories more than 10 years old when considering job applicants. Moreover, when an employer who was previously prepared to offer a job to an individual and later wishes to withdraw that job offer upon learning of his or her criminal history, the employer must justify the withdrawal by demonstrating a link between the nature of that criminal history and the requirements, responsibilities or qualifications of the job. Thus, a pharmacist could justify denying employment to someone with a drug offense history, but night not be able to justify denying employment to someone with a history of simple assault from a fight the individual may have had in college 15 years prior.
The bill does explicitly exclude from its protections certain serious and violent offenses, including sex offenses. Nevertheless, it represents a first step in the reintegration of many individuals with criminal histories, back into society and gainful employment.