On December 20, 2017, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bi-partisan bill that effectively makes asking about expunged criminal records off-limits during the initial employment application process.

The law, an amendment to the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act (“OTCA”), generally referred to as the “Ban the Box” law, applies to employers with 15 or more employees over 20 calendar weeks who do business, employ persons, or take applications for employment within New Jersey. The OTCA generally prohibits employers from making any oral or written inquiry about an applicant’s criminal background during the initial employment application process.

The amendment, which became effective with signing, goes farther. Now, covered employers are barred from seeking information about the current and expunged criminal records of applicants during the early stages of the employment application process. In addition to barring employers from making oral or written inquiries, the amendment also bars employers from doing online searches for an applicant’s criminal record or expunged criminal record.

In New Jersey, individuals who have been convicted of a prior criminal offense up to and including certain felony offenses may apply to the New Jersey Superior Court to have their record expunged. An individual who was convicted for an indictable offense may present an expungement application after 6 years from the date of his or her most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration. For disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses an individual may present the expungement application after the expiration of a period of 5 years from the date of his or her most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or release from incarceration. The waiting period to expunge juvenile record is decreased from 5 to 3 years.

Employers may ask about criminal records and any expungements after the initial employment application process. Currently, NJ law does not prohibit employers from refusing to hire an individual because of his or her criminal history. However, under the amendment, employers may not refuse to hire an applicant because of a criminal record that has been expunged or erased through executive pardon, unless the refusal is consistent with other applicable laws, rules and regulations.

On December 9, 2016, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed ordinances no. 184652 and 184653, collectively referred to as the “Fair Chance Initiative.” These ordinances prohibit employers and City contractors (collectively “Employers”), respectively, from inquiring about job seekers’ criminal convictions until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Both ordinances will go into effect on January 22, 2017 and will impact all employers in the City of Los Angeles and for every position which requires an employee to work at least an average of two hours per week within the City of Los Angeles and all City contractors and subcontractors, regardless of their location.

No Criminal Inquiry Until After Offer

Specifically, these ordinances prohibit Employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal history, at any time or in any manner, unless and until a Conditional Offer of Employment has been made to the applicant. Following the Conditional Offer of Employment, Employers are permitted to request information regarding the applicant’s criminal history. However, Employers can only withdraw or cancel the conditional offer as a result of the applicant’s criminal history after engaging in the “Fair Chance Process.”

New “Fair Chance Process” Required

The “Fair Chance Process” requires Employers to prepare a written assessment highlighting the specific aspects of the applicant’s criminal history that pose an inherent conflict with the duties of the position sought by the applicant. Employers must provide the applicant with written notification of the proposed withdrawal of the conditional offer, a copy of the written assessment regarding the risks posed by the applicant’s criminal history, and any other relevant documentation. The applicant is then given an opportunity to provide the Employer a response to the written assessment, including any supporting documentation. Employers must wait at least 5 business days after the applicant is informed of the proposed withdrawal before taking any action, including filling the position for which the applicant applied.

New Posting and Recordkeeping Requirements

Additionally, Employers’ job postings must now include a notice stating that they will consider all qualified applicants regardless of their criminal histories, in compliance with these ordinances. Employers must also conspicuously post a notice regarding the “Fair Chance Initiative” in a location in the workplace visible to all job applicants; this notice must also be sent to each union or workers’ group with which the employers have any agreement that governs over employees. Further, Employers must retain all job application documents for three years. Penalties for violations of these ordinances may be assessed at up to $500 for the first violation, up to $1,000 for the second violation, and up to $2,000 for subsequent violations. The City may then, at its discretion, distribute a maximum of $500 from that penalty directly to the applicant. The penalty provision of the ordinances will not go into effect for employers in Los Angeles City until July 1, 2017. However, the penalty provision for City contractors is effective immediately.

Exceptions from these ordinances include: (1) employers who are required by law to seek a job applicant’s criminal history; (2) positions for which an applicant would be required to possess or use a firearm; (3) positions which, by law, cannot be held by an individual with a criminal history; and (4) employers who are prohibited, by law, from hiring persons with criminal convictions.

Employers with operations in the City of Los Angeles should:

  1. Remove questions regarding criminal history from job applications;
  2. Ensure future job postings include required equal employment notices;
  3. Defer inquiries regarding criminal history until making conditional job offers; and
  4. Ensure the Fair Chance Process is followed before denying employment based on criminal history.
Nancy L. Gunzenhauser
Nancy L. Gunzenhauser

One of the requirements of the amended Philadelphia ban-the-box law has gone into effect. As of March 14, 2016, Philadelphia employers are required to post a new poster provided by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations in a conspicuous place on both the employer’s website and on premises, where applicants and employees will be most likely to notice and read it.

The amended law strengthens the prohibition on requesting criminal conviction information prior to a conditional offer of employment. Employers in Philadelphia may no longer use a multijurisdictional application with a criminal conviction question, even where the application advises Philadelphia applicants to not answer the criminal conviction question.  Further, employers are subject to new requirements upon rescinding an offer for employment.

Philadelphia employers should conspicuously post the new poster, remove the criminal conviction question on any job applications, and follow all procedures for rescinding an offer of employment.

On Monday, June 29, 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law the bill passed by the New York City Council “banning-the-box.” The law goes into effect on Tuesday, October 27, 2015. As discussed in our earlier advisory, the ban-the-box movement removes from an employment application the “box” that requests criminal conviction history. New York City’s law also imposes additional requirements upon the employer when making an adverse employment decision on the basis of criminal conviction history.