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New Massachusetts Law Will Prohibit Employment Applications From Asking About An Applicant’s Criminal History

Published by on October 19, 2010

Massachusetts employers will soon be prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial employment application as part of the Commonwealth’s Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) system reform.  More after the break. The CORI reform was recently signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick and the so-called “ban-the-box” provision, which bars employers from […]

Massachusetts employers will soon be prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial employment application as part of the Commonwealth’s Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) system reform.  More after the break.

The CORI reform was recently signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick and the so-called “ban-the-box” provision, which bars employers from requiring applicants to check a box on job applications if they have a criminal history, will go into effect November 4, 2010.  The legislation contains a narrow exception that permits employers to inquire about an individual’s criminal history on a job application if: (1) the applicant is applying for a position for which any federal or state law creates a mandatory or presumptive disqualification based on a conviction of certain criminal offenses; or (2) the employer is subject to an obligation under any federal or state regulation not to employ persons in one or more positions who have been convicted of certain criminal offenses.

Massachusetts law only restricts employers from requesting criminal history information on the “initial written application form.”  Accordingly, employers may ask an applicant about his or her criminal history during the interview process.  Employers that fail to comply with the new law will be liable for compensatory and punitive damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees. 

Effective February 6, 2012, the Massachusetts CORI reform also provides that felony conviction records (with limited exceptions) will be sealed, and therefore unavailable to employers in a background investigation, 10 years after disposition.  Misdemeanor convictions will be sealed five years after disposition. 

Hawaii became the first state to enact a “ban-the-box” provision in 1998, prohibiting public and private employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.  Minnesota, New Mexico, and Connecticut have since enacted comparable legislation applicable to public employers.

For the full text of Massachusetts’ “ban-the-box” legislation, codified as M.G.L. c. 151B §4(9), click here.

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