Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently cited 21 employers for violating the statewide ban the box law. Per a report from The Boston Globe, Healey’s office either sent warning letters to the employers in question or fined them.
The employers are all located in Boston or Cambridge, where an Attorney General investigation screened more than 70 employers for their hiring processes. Nearly 30 percent of those employers were found to be in violation of the Massachusetts ban the box law.
Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to pass statewide ban the box legislation. It is also one of only 10 in the country that has extended ban the box requirements to private employers. Most ban the box legislation applies only to public employers.
The Massachusetts law bars employers from using “an initial written employment application” to ask questions about criminal convictions. The only exceptions are jobs where there is a legal restriction that would disqualify a person for having a conviction. The legislation was signed by then-governor Deval Patrick on August 6, 2010. It went into effect on November 4 later that year. (The law was amended earlier this year.)
Even though the Massachusetts law has been enforceable for nearly eight years, compliance still isn’t universal. The Attorney General investigation looked at businesses in the Boston and Cambridge areas with paper applications. Of the 21 businesses cited for violations, four were “large employers”: Five Guys, Edible Arrangements, L’Occitane, and the Walking Co. The Attorney General’s office fined the first three $5,000 each for their non-compliance. The Walking Co. was not fined since it had recently filed for bankruptcy protection.
Seventeen other businesses—mostly smaller restaurant establishments—received warning letters. These letters informed the businesses about the ban the box law and ordered them to immediately remove questions about criminal history from their job applications. Several employers were unaware Massachusetts had a ban the box law. At least one said it was aware of the law but had accidentally handed out old applications that still included questions about convictions.
While not all employers are tapped into news about the latest background check trends, every employer is responsible for complying with all relevant legislation. As this coverage proves, failure to comply can result in a public citation or even costly fines. To avoid these possibilities, businesses everywhere should do their homework and determine whether they are obligated to follow a ban the box law in their region.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer several resources that can help businesses familiarize themselves with ban the box practices and move toward compliance. You can learn about ban the box legislation in general by visiting our Learning Center. We also have an infographic that provides useful information about ban the box laws and a chart that outlines employment-related background check restrictions (including ban the box) in every state. Finally, we frequently discuss the latest ban the box developments on our blog.
Remember: banning the box is not the same as banning the background check. Employers still have a right to know if their candidates have criminal convictions. Some ban the box laws do delay the background check until after the interview or after a conditional offer of employment has been made. However, no ban the box law prohibits employers from conducting criminal searches or most other types of background checks.