The Opportunity to Compete Act requires New Jersey employers to remove questions about an applicant’s criminal record from employment applications and makes it against the law to ask you about your criminal record up to and during the initial employment interview.
Employers may not knowingly or purposefully publish job postings stating that they will not consider applicants who have been arrested or convicted of crimes.
After the initial interview, however (or at any time, if you voluntarily disclose it), an employer is free to ask you about your criminal record and ask your permission to get a copy of your background report. An employer may then refuse to hire you based on your criminal record unless it has been expunged or erased through executive pardon.
The Opportunity to Compete Act does not explicitly allow you to directly sue employers who violate the law. Instead, you must file a complaint with the Division of Labor and Workforce Development. Violations could result in statutory penalties of $1,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for a second violation, and $10,000 for subsequent violations.
Ultimately, removing the criminal record question from the initial employment application phase is designed to give you an opportunity to speak with an employer and explain the circumstances of your record “face-to-face,” before a decision not to hire is made (and hopefully prevented). Employers are compelled to consider your job skills and qualifications before learning about your past criminal history.
Law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, homeland security, emergency management, certain reentry programs, and others as required by law, are exempt from this law.
If you feel that an employer has violated your rights under the Opportunity to Compete Act, you may file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development using the Division of Wage and Hour Compliance “Wage Claim” form available on the NJDOL website. The DOL instructs you to check the box for “other” under the heading “Claim Details” and provide a detailed explanation of your problem. You may also call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). You can also apply for help online.
This information last reviewed: Jul 5, 2017