State governments throughout the country have taken 2013 as an opportunity to “ban the box” and require the removal of any questions about criminal history from job applications. Up until now, New Jersey has remained mostly silent in the ban the box argument. But rather than be late to the party on that particular provision, New Jersey’s Assembly Labor Committee has now gone one step further.
The committee last week voted to approve a bill that would prohibit employers from running background checks on their applicants until they are ready to make a job offer. In other words, the entire job screening process would run its course – from application to phone interview and finally to in-person interview – with employers having little to no insight into an applicant’s criminal record. When the employer has chosen the most qualified or otherwise impressive applicant, he or she would then be allowed to make a job offer conditional on the outcome of a criminal background check.
While New Jersey currently has no “ban the box” legislation in place, and while this new bill will make no changes to which questions employers can and cannot ask on a job application, the background check law would serve essentially the same purpose. Proponents of the bill have used the same arguments as supporters of “ban the box” or expungement laws. The arguments are still good ones, about how former criminals with years of good behavior and clean records are still being punished by prospective employers for a crime they committed decades ago, and how ex-convicts who have turned their lives around need to be given a second chance if they are truly going to overcome their previous offenses.
By not allowing employers to run a background check until they have chosen their ideal applicant, the New Jersey bill would hope to break the cycle of businesses writing off qualified individuals simply because of a single black mark on their records. It would also encourage employers to more closely consider the offense in question in light of the job to be performed. In other words, it would be a means of fighting blanket discrimination against ex-convicts in the workplace.
However, businesses throughout the state – as well as the Republican members of the Assembly Labor Committee – worry that the bill would hinder the ability of employers to protect their businesses, their customers, their property, and their other employees from potentially dangerous hires. For instance, the bill could slow down hiring processes for businesses that like to screen multiple applicants – and look into multiple backgrounds at once.
In the case of a convicted criminal making it to the final stage of the screening process, employers could offer that individual the job, run the background check, deem the applicant unfit for the role, and then have to go back to square one of the interview process. At worst, the bill could result in wasted time by actively withholding relevant information until the last minute. Additionally, employers choosing to turn away applicants thanks to a criminal record would likely feel compelled to explain the decision in details– a bureaucratic step that many busy employers won’t like.
While there is certainly something to be said for fighting the discrimination against ex-convicts in the employment circuit, simple “ban the box” policies may be a better way of doing it than New Jersey’s more restrictive background check bill. Screenings for criminal history, sex offender status, and other offenses – all screening options that are available through backgroundchecks.com – are an important steps for any employer to take in order to protect themselves and their business. By not allowing employers to run background checks earlier in the screening process, New Jersey may be making a move that will diminish hiring productivity.