New Jersey Signs the "Opportunity to Compete Act" - August 13th, 2014

On August 11th, 2014, New Jersey Governor Christie signed “The Opportunity to Compete Act” which restricts an employer’s ability to make any inquiry whether verbal or written into an applicant’s criminal record during the initial application process.  The employer can inquire into an applicant’s criminal history after the initial interview.  However, if the applicant voluntarily makes a disclosure regarding their criminal history, the employer is permitted to discuss the record.

This law applies to any person, company, corporation, firm, labor organization, or association which has 15 or more employees over 20 calendar weeks, and does business, employs persons, or takes applications for employment within this State, including the State, any county or municipality.  This law also pertains to job placement and staffing agencies.

The law does not prohibit an employer from requiring an applicant to complete an employment application that makes inquiries regarding an applicant’s criminal record during the initial employment application process if the employment sought is in any of the following:

  1. Law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security or emergency management.
  2. The employment sought is for a position where a criminal history record check is required by law, rule or regulation or where an arrest or conviction by the person would possibly preclude the person from holding that position.
  3. The employment sought or being considered is for a position designated by the employer to be part of a program to encourage the employment of persons who have been arrested or convicted of crimes or offenses.

It also prohibits employers from publishing any advertisement that states that the employer will not consider any applicant who has been arrested or convicted of a crime or offense.  If the advertisement does state that a criminal history check will be conducted the following must also be stated in the advertisement: “New Jersey law prohibits employers from considering the criminal records of applicants for employment under certain circumstances.”

This section does not apply to the following:

  1. Law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security or emergency management.
  2. The employment sought is for a position where a criminal history record check is required by law, rule or regulation or where an arrest or conviction by the person would possibly preclude the person from holding that position.

An employer who violates this act can be held liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second violation, and $10,000 for each subsequent violation, collectible by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development.

This law also prevents any county or municipality from adopting any ordinance or law that conflicts with this act and preempts any ordinance or law that was enacted prior to the effective date of this act. 

This law will be effective on March 1st, 2015, the full text of the law can be found here: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A2000/1999_R1.PDF