The stigma from a criminal conviction will outlast the state’s punishment, a reality that some argue results in an unnecessary and deleterious effect on the economic viability, health, and security of our communities.
Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law the “Opportunity to Compete Act,” which prohibits certain employers from considering a prospective employee’s criminal background during its initial hiring process. Popularly coined as “banning the box,” the intent of this new law is to assist those with criminal histories in getting beyond the initial, inevitable negative reaction when a hiring business learns that an applicant has a criminal past. “Ban the box” proponents argue that this law reduces recidivism and strengthens communities by better allowing for reintegration after the incarceration period of otherwise job-qualified individuals has ended. Proponents also point out that criminal records are oftentimes riddled with mistakes and inaccuracies that can negatively affect an unknowing applicant. Many also argue that “ban the box” laws, by encouraging employment opportunities, prompt a greater ability for the self-reliance and rehabilitation of those who have already paid their debt to society.
While Pennsylvania has not yet enacted any similar law, Philadelphia passed its own “ban the box” law in 2011. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia provides an informative fact sheet on Philadelphia’s hiring laws. Here is the fact sheet.
New Jersey’s law (full text) requires that certain qualifying employers refrain from asking about an applicant’s criminal status, or otherwise conducting a background check, until there is a conditional offer of employment. After employers give conditional offers, they must then obtain the candidate’s consent to inquire into his or her criminal history. Employers with concerns about an individual’s past must give that person a good faith opportunity to explain him or herself. Employers are also prohibited under the law from advertising that employment is contingent upon satisfactory background checks. The penalties are only civil fines; no private cause of action exists.
Although New Jersey’s “Opportunity to Compete Act” does not take effect until March of 2015, it is always a good time to fully consider the effect of a criminal conviction on your record. If you have concerns about your case, or want to know if you or someone you know is eligible for expungement, contact a Fairlie & Lippy attorney.