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Legislation delaying employers' ability to conduct background checks until a job offer advances by Assembly panel

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The Assembly Labor Committee voted Monday morning to release the “Opportunity to Compete Act,” a bill which would limit employers from conducting criminal background checks on job applicants until after an offer of conditional employment is made.

Also known as “ban the box,” the bill would require employers to obtain consent from qualified applicants before conducting the background checks and must provide written notice of their intentions to do so.

The bill also provides provisions for what an employer can take into consideration during the background check process according to the degree of the crime and amount of time that has passed since conviction. Employers will not be restricted in their consideration of several serious crimes such as murder, arson and some sex offenses.

If an employer rescinds a conditional offer of employment due to the findings of a background check, the applicant must receive written notification, a copy of the inquiry into his or her criminal history and a copy of a “Criminal Record Consideration Form.” Failure to comply with any of the bill’s provisions could land employers a fine of anywhere from $500 to $7,500.

In testimony opposing the measure, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of government relations Michael Egenton said that while its purpose may be “well-intended,” the bill offers yet another layer of regulation and restriction to the state’s business community. Egenton said that especially following the landmark passage of the Economic Opportunity Act which hopes to draw new business to New Jersey, added mandates work toward doing the opposite.

“Sometimes I think we neutralize some of the good things we do when we have measures like this,” Egenton said.

Stefanie Riehl, an assistant vice president with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, testified that not only does the bill go well beyond federal guidelines for conducting background checks, it also carries with it challenges to workplace security and safety.

“By the time an employer makes a condition offer of employment, he or she has likely brought a candidate into the workplace multiple times without the ability to inquire about crimes that could have safety and security implications for other workers,” Riehl wrote.

But proponents of the bill claim it will reduce recidivism and open up jobs for what is currently an underutilized, ignored faction of the state’s workforce.

“It is good for New Jersey. It is good for businesses. It is good for our citizens,” state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), a sponsor of an identical bill in the Senate, testified.

Cornell Brooks, CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, added in testimony that moving the period for background checks until after a conditional offer has been made is a growing “trend among businesses across the country.”


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