As readers of this blog know, we write about criminal law matters regularly, including the consequences of conviction. Indeed, in a prior post, we wrote about the lingering, non-legal effects convictions have on the lives of people convicted of a New Jersey crime. Though, our state has passed a law that helps the convicted gain employment, something that is often nearly impossible post-conviction in other states.
The Opportunity to Compete Act
The Opportunity to Compete Act pasted toward the end of 2014 by then-Governor, Chris Christie. The law was passed to help convicted Garden State residents get the opportunity to work. Essentially, it restricts most employers from inquiring into potential or current employee criminal backgrounds or use their criminal record for hiring purposes. Subsequently, the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development developed the OCA rules that enacted those change at the end of 2015.
Who is covered?
A covered employer can be any person, company, corporation, firm, labor organization or association, but only those with 15 or more employees over 20 calendar weeks in New Jersey. It also includes job referral and placement agencies. As for employees, it is any person who is hired for a wage, salary, fee or payment to perform work for an employer, which includes apprentices and interns. For interns, it does not matter whether the internship is paid or unpaid. Though, any person employed in the domestic service of any family or person at the person’s home, any independent contractors or any directors or trustees do not qualify as covered employees.
Are there any exemptions?
Yes. Law enforcement and judicial agencies are exempt, as are any emergency management employers. If an employer is required by a law, rule or regulation to do a criminal background check, the employer is exempt, including employers that are prohibited from hiring people with criminal backgrounds.
Are there consequences for violations?
Yes. The aggrieved Northern New Jersey resident cannot directly sue over violations of this new law. Instead, the New Jersey Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development is empowered to impose civil money penalties. For a first violation, the penalty can be up to $1,000, and a second violation, the maximum penalty rises to $5,000. Though, with each subsequent penalty, the fine raises to a $10,000 maximum.