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Ex-offender Hiring Rules and Regulations

The Opportunity to Compete Act

As of March 1, 2015, The Opportunity to Compete Act has created new hiring rules for employers in New Jersey regarding ex-offenders. In general, the law is designed to help ex-offenders get through the initial interview and employment application processes. Here are a few important mandates of the law:

  • The law prohibits an employer from requiring that an applicant complete an application that asks about an applicant’s criminal record during the initial application process.
  • The law prohibits an employer from making any oral or written inquiry regarding an applicant’s criminal record during the initial employment application process.
  • The “initial employment application process” identified in the law ends when the employer has conducted a first interview of the job applicant, after which inquiries regarding an applicant’s criminal record may be made by the prospective employer.
  • The law prohibits employers from producing solicitations for a position that state the employer will not consider anyone who has a criminal record.
  • The act sets a statewide standard for criminal history inquiries in the employment context by preempting all local ordinances, thereby making it easier for employers across the State to comply.
  • An employer with 15 or more employees who violates the provisions of The Opportunity to Compete Act will be liable for a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for the first violation, up to $5,000 for the second violation, and up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation.
  • Exceptions to the law include:
    • when the position sought is in law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security or emergency management.
    • where the employment sought or being considered is for a position where a criminal background check is required by law, rule, or regulation.
    • where an arrest or conviction of the person for one or more crimes or offenses would or may preclude the person from holding such employment as required by law, rule, or regulation.
    • where any law rule or regulation restricts an employer’s ability to engage in specified business activities based on the criminal records of its employees.
    • where the employment sought or being considered is for a position designated by the employer to be part of a program or systematic effort designed predominantly or exclusively to encourage the employment of persons who have been arrested or convicted of one or more crimes or offenses.

Important to note is nothing in the law prohibits an employer from refusing to hire an applicant with a criminal record, unless the record has been expunged or erased through executive pardon. Also, the law explicitly provides that a violation of the act’s provisions may not serve as the basis for a private lawsuit or for the imposition of any other penalties.

To read a press release on the law, go to: http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/lwdhome/press/2015/20150227_OpportunitytoCompete.html


To read the law, go to: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A2000/1999_R1.PDF


To file a complaint under The Opportunity to Compete Act, please use the Division of Wage and Hour Compliance “Wage Claim” form. On the form, under the heading “Claim Details,” please check the box for “other” and provide a detailed explanation. You may access the form at http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/forms_pdfs/lsse/mw-31a.pdf.