Massachusetts recently approved significant changes to the Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) laws.

The two principal changes, which affect Massachusetts employers, relate to the use of CORI in pre-employment screening and the access and use of CORI records.

Effective November 4, 2010, an employer will no longer be permitted to seek information on a prospective employee’s criminal record as part of an initial job application. This so-called “Ban the Box” amendment only applies to requesting information on the initial written application form (often part of a check box question), and does not bar an employer from asking about criminal history during an interview. However, as has always been the case, employers cannot inquire about arrests that do not result in convictions or certain misdemeanor convictions.

There are exceptions to the rules which permit an employer to inquire on an initial application if the employer is covered by any state or federal law that creates a presumptive disqualification based on a conviction of certain criminal offenses, or an obligation not to employ persons who have been convicted of certain criminal offenses.

As part of the CORI Amendments, the scope of what an employer can obtain for criminal records has been narrowed. Specifically, the disclosure of misdemeanor convictions has been reduced from ten years to five years from the release from prison. Similarly, felony convictions are now sealed after ten years, as opposed to 15 years under prior law. There are exceptions to these restrictions for certain serious crimes. In addition, certain classes of persons seeking CORI, such as institutions working with children, will have broader access to CORI.

There are also new limits on retention of CORI and record keeping requirements which go into effect on February 6, 2012. The new record keeping requirements limit retention for a period of seven years following the last day of employment or final decision not to hire a prospective employee, require an employer to maintain a log documenting the dissemination of any CORI records, and require an employer that conducts more than five criminal investigations to establish a written criminal records policy.

An employer that regularly uses CORI as part of the employment process is encouraged to start developing its written CORI policies and procedures well before the effective date. Please contact us, or have your HR director contact us, to discuss the necessary changes to your employment interview process, forms and applications.