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(TRENTON) – Assembly members Charles Mainor and Vincent Prieto are sponsoring a bill to prevent employers from discriminating against job applicants with criminal records, which make reintegration into society difficult, and disproportionately impact racial minorities.

“According to the National Employment Law Project, over one in four U.S. adults has a criminal record. African Americans and Latinos are at an even greater disadvantage when applying for employment because they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “A criminal record is an obvious red flag, but it should not be an end-all for residents who have amended for their mistakes, have turned their lives around and want to provide for themselves and their families. How do we expect people to better themselves, when they can’t get a job? Some of these criminal records are due to minor offenses committed years ago. To extend these records to a lifetime of economic disadvantage is incredibly unfair.”

“A criminal record is an understandable concern for employers, but it seems unfair to base a hiring decision solely on a person’s criminal record, without taking into consideration the circumstances behind it. Should we really condemn a person who committed a minor infraction or had a youthful indiscretion years ago, but have since changed, for the rest of their lives?” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “With an estimated 65 million Americans with criminal records, it is a problem that affects many communities, particularly communities of color which are impacted at a disproportionate rate. Not all mistakes are reversible and not all people can change, but those who want to be positive, contributing members of society should not be denied the opportunity.”

The bill (A-4298) would prohibit all public and private employers from discriminating against ex-convicts. Public and private employers would be prohibited from denying a person a license or employment because of the person has previously been convicted of a criminal offense or because the person has been determined to lack “good moral character” based on a previous conviction. The bill applies to current, as well as prospective employees.

Employers would be exempt from this prohibition if:

  • there is a direct relationship between a previous criminal offense and the specific license or employment sought;
  • or issuing the license or hiring the person would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific persons or the general public.

Employers must consider the following factors when determining if either of these exceptions apply:

  • it is New Jersey’s policy to encourage licensing and employing persons previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses;
  • the specific duties and responsibilities related to the license or employment sought;
  • the bearing, if any, the criminal offense will have on the person’s fitness or ability to perform the required duties and responsibilities;
  • how much time has elapsed since the offense was committed;
  • the seriousness of the offense;
  • information provided by the person showing rehabilitation and good conduct;
  • the legitimate interest of the public or private employer in protecting the property, safety and welfare of specific individuals or general public.

Under the bill, the issuance of a certificate of rehabilitation to a person creates a presumption of rehabilitation in regard to the offenses to which the certificate applies. An employer must consider the certificate in determining whether either of the exceptions apply.