In 2010, Massachusetts enacted sweeping reforms to its criminal offender record information (CORI) system. Among the changes was a provision prohibiting most employers from asking about criminal history on initial employment applications. The measure is known as “ban the box” because it outlaws the once-common practice of inquiring about criminal background by including a checkbox on employment applications.
Because many employers immediately rejected any applicants who checked off the box indicating any criminal history, it has been challenging, if not impossible, for anyone with a criminal past to find employment. Proponents of ban the box hope that by preventing employers from asking a threshold question about criminal history, people with prior convictions could at least get the chance to be considered for better employment opportunities.
In the eight years since the law was enacted, many employers have modified their hiring practices to comply with the law. But not all employers have made the required changes, either deliberately or through lack of knowledge or understanding about the law.
This week, Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, announced that her office reached agreements with four national employers found to be in violation of the law. Under the agreements, the employers must come into compliance with the law and pay fines. The Attorney General also announced that her office has sent warning letters to seventeen other businesses in Boston and Cambridge directing them to change their practices to conform to the law. Most of the businesses involved are restaurants and retail establishments.
These enforcement actions come after efforts by the Attorney General’s office to educate employers and the public about the changes to CORI, and an extensive investigation into employers’ compliance with the law. These steps by the Attorney General highlight the importance for all employers to review their hiring practices, including employment applications, to ensure that that are up-to-date, and consistent with current legal requirements. Employers are encouraged to consult with employment counsel to confirm compliance with the law.