Did the protocol for professional license checks break down in Massachusetts? That’s the question that a recent audit of the state’s Division of Professional Licensure (DPL) has raised. In the audit report, the Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor notes that it could not “determine how many professionals were licensed without undergoing required background checks.”
The DPL–recently renamed the Division of Occupational Licensure (DOL)–“licenses and regulates more than 580,000 individuals, businesses, and schools to engage in over 150 trades and professions in Massachusetts.” The professionals that the DOL licenses range from health workers to architects to social workers to massage therapists.
The audit examined the DPL/DOL’s operations between July 1, 2017 and March 31, 2020. The purpose of the investigation, per the Office of the State Auditor, “was to determine whether DPL performed Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and Sex Offender Record Information (SORI) checks for license applicants in accordance with the requirements of its license application process.”
The results of the investigation are complex. The Office of the State Auditor did not find proof that DPL/DOL was shirking its responsibility to conduct thorough professional license checks in accordance with state law. At the same time, the auditor was not able to find evidence that the office completed background checks for all license applicants throughout the period.
The problem could be software and organization. Auditor Suzanne Bump wrote that she couldn’t be sure “whether DPL conducted CORI or SORI checks for all license applicants because the data in DPL’s Accela2 and MyLicense3 Office software had significant limitations and did not provide an adequate basis for addressing our audit objectives.”
Even allowing for software issues as a margin for error, the number of potentially overlooked professional license checks is substantial. For the period that the investigation covered, the Office of the State Auditor could not find evidence that the DPL/DOL had conducted criminal checks for 67 percent of the professionals that it licensed. There was also no proof that the agency screened 42 percent of its applicants for sex offender records.
Bump has issued a statement saying that DPL/DOL has “now acknowledged” its failures in these respects. Bump also urged the office to “address deficiencies in the licensure and background check process” since it is currently in the midst of “an organizational overhaul” that includes its name change.
DPL/DOL has issued its own statement on the audit, noting that it is taking measures to correct the oversights, including hiring an attorney to oversee the unit responsible for CORI and SORI background checks.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a background check tool to verify professional licenses. If a candidate claims a license on their resume, or if a specific professional license is required for a position, an employer can run a professional license check to verify that the candidate’s license is genuine and in good standing.
Situations such as this one in Massachusetts are reminders that just because a professional is licensed in a certain profession does not mean that they have been thoroughly vetted. Employers vetting candidates with license verifications should always incorporate criminal history checks along with sex offender registry checks, employment history verifications, and other screenings.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments