An estimated 65 million Americans have a criminal record. If you are one of them, searching for a job could be tough.
Surveys show that a majority of employers—92%, according to one recent survey—check criminal records when hiring for some or all positions. If a prospective employer finds out that you have an arrest or conviction record, you might find it difficult to compete in today's tight job market.
Job seekers with criminal records have some legal rights. Federal and state laws place some limits on how employers can use these records in making job decisions. New Jersey law gives applicants some protection in this situation, too.
Employers are limited by two federal laws when seeking or considering an applicant's criminal records in hiring:
To learn more about these federal protections, see our article on getting hired with a criminal record.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, background checks of individuals who earn less than $75,000 per year can only look back seven years for certain types of information, including:
As discussed below, the seven-year rule doesn't apply to criminal background checks.
The New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act is a "ban-the-box" law that prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from:
An employer may ask an applicant about—or otherwise seek information relating to—criminal history only after it has conducted an interview of the applicant. However, the law provides some exceptions where employers may ask about criminal history sooner, including if:
Employers may refuse to hire a job applicant based on arrest records or conviction records, unless the conviction has been expunged or erased through executive pardon.
New Jersey also has a law similar to the federal FCRA. Under state law, employers must obtain an applicant's written consent before ordering a criminal background check from a third party and must provide notice before rejecting an applicant based on the contents of the report.
Criminal background checks won't reveal juvenile records, but your entire adult criminal history will be revealed in a background check unless your conviction has been expunged.
In 2019, New Jersey passed the Clean Slate Law that allows individual with certain convictions over 10 years old to request that they be expunged. This law does not apply to serious offenses such as murder, rape, arson, robbery, and kidnapping.
If you want to have a criminal conviction expunged, or you suspect that an employer has violated the law in conducting a background check on you, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.