NEW JERSEY — College degrees. Computer knowledge. Customer service skills. There are lots of requirements that employers in New Jersey can lay down in classified ads for potential job seekers.
But the phrase “no criminal record” isn’t supposed to be among them.
On Thursday, state officials shared the results of the largest-ever enforcement sweep done under New Jersey’s Opportunity to Compete Act – commonly known as the “ban the box” law. The legislation is designed to help former inmates reintegrate into their communities, become productive members of the workforce and provide for their families.
In all, 15 companies have agreed to change the way they advertise for open jobs or change their hiring practices after the sweep, including businesses in Piscataway, Newark and Linden, officials said.
Here’s what the law does, according to a joint statement from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development:
“The law generally prohibits employers from requiring that a job applicant complete any form during the initial application process that asks about their criminal record. It also prohibits an employer from making any oral or written inquiry regarding an applicant’s criminal record during the initial employment application process, which ends when the employer has conducted a first interview. In addition, the law bars employers from soliciting applicants for jobs through advertising that says the employer will not consider anyone who has a criminal record, with certain exceptions (e.g., where the employment sought or being considered is for a position where a criminal background check is required by law).”
According to prosecutors, the companies that signed assurances of voluntary compliance with the state included:
- Ferraro Foods, Inc., based in Piscataway, used the jobs website Indeed.com to advertise for sales representative positions in multiple mid-Atlantic locations. In each instance, the ads included the following text: “Must maintain Criminal History free of Misdemeanors and Felonies.”
- Roadrunner Logistics, Inc. posted an employment ad on Indeed.com seeking a delivery driver to be based in Newark. The posting stated explicitly, “No criminal record” and “Must have a clean background check.”
- Simco Logistics, Inc. (d/b/a Jack and Jill Ice Cream) advertised on Indeed.com for a sales representative position based in Linden, and included the following language: “Must have a clean Background Check – no criminal convictions.”
Under the agreements with the three companies, each must immediately cease any employment advertising that excludes applicants with criminal backgrounds and adopt written policies that are fully compliant with the OTCA and pay penalties, prosecutors said.
Each of the three companies was also initially assessed a $1,000 penalty, which was reduced to $250 in light of their “good faith cooperation” with the investigation and pledges of future compliance. In each case, the unlawful advertising posted by the three employers will be considered a “first violation” and taken into account in setting penalties should any future violations occur, state officials said.
A dozen more companies – who were not named in Thursday’s statement – have agreed to change their job advertising practices without any finding of wrongdoing by them, prosecutors said.
“Ten of the 12 employers have agreed to eliminate language concerning applicants’ criminal history from their job advertisements going forward, and two have agreed to include explicit explanations of applicable background check requirements. Additionally, one of the 12 companies has agreed to modify their online job application form in use.”
‘BAN THE BOX’
The state’s effort to “ban the box” – a reference to the space on a job application that asks about a criminal record – is partly a social justice issue. According to state officials, people of color make up less than half the state’s population but more than three-quarters of its prison population.
And the burden of having to tick off a box about a “criminal history” is giving other job candidates an unfair advantage, they say.
“Here in New Jersey, we believe that a criminal record shouldn’t be a permanent barrier to employment, and that once you’ve paid your debt to society, you’re entitled to a fair shake when looking for work,” Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck said.
“With the enforcement sweep we’re announcing today, we’re sending a clear message to employers that they need to comply with the law,” Bruck added.
Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said that research has shown a steady job is a strong deterrent to recidivism, and without meaningful work, people with prior justice system involvement face an uphill battle.
“Once a person has completed their sentence and has returned to their community, it is incumbent upon us to remove barriers to employment, and to provide job training and career support,” Asaro-Angelo said.
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