Do you feel a prospective employer should be banned from asking a job applicant about his or her criminal background until that applicant is actually offered a job?

It’s come up before, and today during a meeting in Jersey City attended by bill sponsor State Senator Sandra Cunningham, there was a new call to pass the legislation that would permit the employer to conduct a criminal background check only after a job has been offered to a prospective employee.

State Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham again pushed state legislation that would bar employers from asking applicants if they have criminal histories in the first stages of a job search.

Cornell William Brooks, CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), which supports the measure, said “that little box” on applications asking prospective employees to confirm if they've been arrested or charged with a crime becomes a “mountainously high” employment barrier, Brooks said.

The legislation, known as the Opportunity to Compete Act (S-2586), would allow an employer to perform a criminal background check on an applicant only after the prospective employee has been deemed qualified for the job.

An employer, when deciding whether to hire an applicant, would also be barred from considering any arrest that did not lead to a conviction, and any record that has been erased or expunged.

It would apply to public entities as well as private businesses with 15 or more workers. Original drafts had that threshold at five employees, but Brooks said they upped the number after hearing feedback from small businesses.

Proponents of the measure say they want to “ban the box,” referring to the box on an application that asks about a criminal history.

Cunningham, D-Jersey City, said citizens with even non-violent criminal histories go “back and forth” to prison repeatedly because they can’t find employment.

“They check that box and they wait, and they want, and they wait,” she said today. “Unfortunately, no one’s calling them for an interview.”

Sixty-four jurisdictions in the nation have passed similar laws, including states such as California, Illinois and Maryland and cities like Baltimore, Newark and Memphis, according to the NJISJ.

Cunningham said she’s certain the legislation will pass the Democratic-led state Legislature. She’s hopeful Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, will support it as well, though she said today she hasn’t spoken to Christie about it recently.

It never made any sense to me to have that box on an application if the prospective employer was going to do some kind of a background check on the applicant anyone once they were being considered for hire.

For an applicant to check “yes”, no matter what the crime, could very possibly put the applicant behind the “eight ball”, and probably get the application chucked away in the “circular file”.