Guide to New Jersey Background Checks

Gayle Sato
December 01, 2022
5 min read

Employers use New Jersey background checks to verify information and learn about a candidate’s criminal history, driving record, education, work experience, and more. Pre-employment background checks can provide valuable insights, but they also require employers to navigate federal, state, and local fair hiring laws that regulate the way background checks are conducted and used. Here’s a quick guide to handling background checks in New Jersey.

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What is a New Jersey background check?

A New Jersey background check searches public records, databases, and other sources for information on a candidate’s history. Employers may conduct a pre-employment background check to gain insight into a candidate’s experience and qualifications or learn more about their criminal, driving, civil court, and drug use history.

Employers in New Jersey may be required by law to conduct background checks for specific positions. For example, adults who live or work at licensed childcare facilities in New Jersey must undergo a fingerprint-based criminal history check; a state and national sex offender registry check; and a child abuse record check. Healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, volunteers who work with youth, and any number of other employee, contractor, and volunteer positions may all be required to undergo additional background screening.

Even when background checks are not required by law, employers may choose to conduct pre-employment background screenings to evaluate a candidate’s eligibility and qualifications for a role, learn more about their criminal history or drug use if relevant to the position they have applied for, or understand past experience with civil judgments or credit. Insights from a background check can also help protect employers from liability and mitigate against risk.

What shows up on a background check in New Jersey?

A New Jersey pre-employment background check can provide information on a candidate’s criminal history, education, work history, driving record, or drug test results. Employers determine the types of screenings that are included in a background check, and these may vary based on industry regulations or by job position.

Here’s what can show up on some of the most commonly used New Jersey pre-employment background checks:

    • Criminal background checks in New Jersey can show criminal history records such as misdemeanor and felony convictions, arrests that lead to convictions, and pending criminal cases. 

    • Education verification screenings can show schools attended, degrees or courses of study, and graduation dates.  

    • Employment verification screenings can show dates of employment, and employment status helps confirm work experience and reduce the risk of hiring an unqualified candidate. 

    • Employment credit checks can show information related to financial managements, such as bankruptcies, accounts in collection, and payment histories. 

    • Civil court checks can show a candidate’s non-criminal court history, including civil judgments, lawsuits, or claims.

    • Motor vehicle records can show a candidate’s driving history and verify their license status for positions that require driving on the job.

    • Employment drug testing can show if a candidate or employee has substances such as alcohol, illicit drugs, or certain prescription medications present in their system

Can what shows up on a background check disqualify candidates from employment?

Pre-employment background checks can return information that employers need to consider when making hiring decisions. In some cases, information from a pre-employment background check may be disqualifying for the role for which they’re hiring. Here are a few examples:

1. Specific criminal convictions

In the interest of fair hiring, employers may wish to avoid blanket policies that disqualify candidates based on criminal convictions or arrest records. However, laws and regulations for certain industries or positions may require employers to disqualify candidates whose New Jersey criminal background checks show specific types of convictions. For example, candidates who have been convicted of domestic violence charges, multiple DWI offenses, or any indictable offense face automatic disqualifcation from being hired as New Jersey State Troopers. 

When New Jersey criminal background checks return a conviction, employers may want to conduct individualized assessments that take into account the nature of the criminal offense, its relevance to the position, and its recency. 

2. Driving history

NJ employers may be required by law to check the driving records of school bus drivers and commercial drivers, both pre-employment and periodically after they’re hired. Candidates who have a history of accidents, moving violations, and DUI or DWI may not meet US Department of Transportation (DOT) or New Jersey state-specific requirements for commercial driving. Additionally, a poor driving history for anyone who drives on the job could signal a safety issue and may result in a disqualification from a role.

3. Qualifications, experience, and licensing

If a New Jersey pre-employment background check fails to verify a candidate’s past work experience, education, or licensing, an employer might remove a candidate from their hiring flow. Some qualifications are legally required for certain roles; for example, in New Jersey, professional hairstylists must be licensed through the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling. Hiring an unlicensed worker could open an employer up to liability. Moreover, if a candidate has falsely padded their work history or education, they may not be able to deliver the job performance the position requires.

4. Pre-employment drug screening

Failing a pre-employment drug test could be disqualifying on legal or regulatory grounds, or when an employer’s policy is to maintain a drug-free workplace (where allowable by law). 

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New Jersey background check laws and restrictions

New Jersey has a statewide Ban the Box law, as well as several laws that affect the use of background checks during the hiring process, the expungement of criminal records, notifying candidates when conducting background checks, pre-employment drug testing, and more. 

A sampling of New Jersey background check laws are highlighted below, but employers should consider working with their legal counsel to ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local fair hiring laws and industry-specific regulations that may apply to them. Where multiple laws are in force, employers may want to consider using the strictest law as a guideline.

New Jersey Ban the Box Law

Summary: New Jersey public and private employers with 15 or more employees that do business, employ people, or advertise for jobs in the State of New Jersey must comply with the Opportunity to Compete law, sometimes referred to as a Ban the Box law. Under this state law, employers may not inquire into a candidate’s criminal history until after conducting a first interview. Employers may not consider expunged or pardoned convictions when making hiring decisions. The law makes exceptions for positions that legally require criminal background checks and for employers that have a stated intention to hire candidates who have criminal histories. All local or county laws are in addition to the statewide law. See law.

New Jersey Clean Slate Act

Summary: The Clean Slate Act allows for the expungement of all criminal records after ten years following the date of conviction, payment of fines, completion of parole, or release from incarceration (whichever is latest), and as soon as three to five years for certain indictable convictions. Convictions for some serious crimes, including murder, manslaughter, treason, kidnapping, or rape, are not eligible for expungement under this law. See law.

Background Check Notifications, NJ Stat. § 56:11-33

Summary: Consumers must be notified in advance when investigative consumer reports, such as background screening from a CRA, are conducted on them. Employers should obtain written consent and provide a notice explaining the candidate’s right to receive a copy of the report when it’s completed. See law.

Adverse Action Rights, NJ Stat. § 56:11-31

Summary: Before taking adverse action, employers must provide applicants with a summary of their rights under this state law (and the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act) and provide a copy of the report. See law.

Salary History Inquiries, NJ Executive Order No.1

Summary: By executive order, New Jersey state agencies may not inquire into a job applicant’s salary history until a conditional offer of employment has been made. See law.

Cannabis Screening

Summary: Employers may conduct pre-employment testing for marijuana use; however, they are prohibited from taking adverse action solely based on the presence of cannabinoid metabolites in a candidate’s system unless cannabis use is specific to the role restrictions. See law.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

In addition to following New Jersey state laws, employers working with a CRA to conduct New Jersey background checks must follow federal regulations set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA requires employers to provide candidates with written notice of their intent to run a background check and to obtain written consent before proceeding. If the employer decides to take adverse action as the result of information that appears in a background check, they should follow the adverse action process outlined in the FCRA. See law

Local New Jersey fair hiring laws

Local Ban the Box laws were previously enacted in Atlantic City and Newark. However, the comprehensive statewide NJ Opportunity to Compete law (2015) extends to cover all jurisdictions.

How far back does a background check go in NJ?

The lookback period on a New Jersey state background check may be determined by the FCRA and New Jersey laws. When employers work with a CRA, the FCRA limits the lookback period for some elements of a background check to seven years for positions that pay less than $75,000 per year. So while there is no New Jersey background check seven-year limit, the FCRA’s seven-year lookback period applies to arrests that do not lead to conviction. 

A few exceptions apply to the seven-year rule included in the FCRA. Convictions may be reported indefinitely unless expunged or sealed, and bankruptcies may be reported for up to ten years. Limitations may be waived for positions that pay $75,000 or more. There is no time limit on employment or education verification; employers (and CRAs) may search back as far as necessary to verify this information.

The State of New Jersey does not impose a separate lookback restriction on background checks. However, employers should be aware that, under New Jersey’s Clean Slate Act, individuals who have criminal records can petition to have certain indictable offenses expunged after three to five years, and their entire criminal history expunged after ten years. 

How long does an employment background check take in New Jersey?

Background check turnaround times in New Jersey can vary from just a few minutes to several weeks, depending on the type of screening and whether employers work with a background check provider. Criminal background checks typically take an average of 3-5 days, and driving record checks can take an average of 1-3 days to complete.

However, manually ordering individual criminal history reports, downloading motor vehicle abstracts, or contacting former employers for work verification eats up valuable staff time and can extend these average turnaround times. 

Partnering with a CRA for background checks streamlines the process while helping to ensure employers receive accurate information and make compliance with federal, state, and local fair hiring laws easier. Checkr completes 84% of its background reports in under 15 minutes.

A more efficient process creates a better experience for candidates as well. Checkr’s candidate portal enables candidates to access and complete forms using their mobile devices and check the progress of their background screening through completion. This kind of candidate portal cuts down on communication time between employers and candidates while helping to build transparency and trust.

How to get a background check in New Jersey

Employers can conduct their own New Jersey background checks or partner with a qualified CRA, like Checkr.

To conduct a New Jersey background check online, employers may need to contact New Jersey departments and state agencies directly for criminal history, court, and driving records. Here are three sources for records commonly searched as part of a pre-employment background check:

    • Contact the New Jersey State Police for name-based criminal history and fingerprint-based records searches. Employers may conduct searches on job candidates and prospective volunteers as part of pre-employment screening. Name-based searches are for New Jersey records only.

    • Submit a records request form to search civil court records online at New Jersey Courts. Searchable records include civil cases, liens, and judgments that aren’t part of a criminal history check.

    • Request motor vehicle records using the State of New Jersey government records request form. Select the Transportation department and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to request copies of driver history abstracts that show moving violations, points, accidents, and suspensions for the past five years.

Handling multiple checks and manual processes can be time-consuming and may not return comprehensive results. Employers may have to individually contact past employers, educational institutions, and licensing boards to verify work experience, references, degrees or credentials, and licenses. A criminal or civil background check may require searching numerous jurisdictions, multiplying the time required. 

Partnering with a CRA, like Checkr, can streamline and speed up the process while helping to ensure hiring decisions are based on accurate results. Checkr can provide a customized selection of background screening reports that help you comply with industry and legal requirements such as the FCRA and New Jersey state fair hiring rules. Faster turnaround times often translate to a smoother hiring process that helps you keep ideal candidates in your hiring flow.

How much does a NJ background check cost?

Costs for individual reports can add up when employers conduct their own New Jersey background checks. Direct costs include document fees, such as for name-based state criminal history searches through the New Jersey State Police at about $20 each, or fees for fingerprint-based searches set at about $45 in NJ. Add in the value of staff time, and the cost of completing a background check in-house can easily top $100 and more.

Pricing for pre-employment background checks through a CRA varies depending on the type and number of reports requested, but it can represent a cost savings over employers doing their own. Checkr offers custom packages and multiple pricing tiers starting at $29.99. Volume discounts are available for employers that conduct more than 300 background checks per year.

The cost savings of working with a qualified CRA, like Checkr, can extend beyond favorable pricing. Accurate reports, fast results, an easy-to-use platform, compliance tools, and customer support can save employers from costly errors, wasted staff time, and a prolonged hiring process.

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New Jersey pre-employment background checks can help employers make informed hiring decisions, and Checkr can help employers navigate the New Jersey background check process with ease. Checkr offers a wide range of background screening options that provide the accurate information employers need and simplified compliance workflows that make mitigating risk and hiring qualified talent easier. To learn more about how Checkr can help you streamline your background screening process, get started now.

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The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

Gayle writes about business topics, specializing in background checks and screening best practices.

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