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Who Needs a Criminal Background Check in Massachusetts?
If you have applied for a job in Massachusetts, don’t be surprised if you are told that your application will be subject to a criminal background check. In fact, job applicants are by far the most likely to be subjected to a criminal background check in this state. Criminal background checks are likely to be enforced if applying for a job that involves close contact with vulnerable people.Children, the elderly and the disabled are prime examples.
To summarize, occupations that might need a criminal background check include:
- home healthcare;
- jobs involving children or the elderly;
- the military.
A criminal background check may also be mandatory if you are applying for a job where important decisions about money, or access to money, is part of the job.
A prospective landlord may also require a criminal background check before renting out a property.
In addition to employment and renting, criminal background checks are mandatory in Massachusetts if you intend purchasing a gun or other firearm.
Theoretically, you could refuse a request to access your criminal background record, but to do so isn’t too smart, as it is likely to be seen as suspicious by an employer. If you know that you have a criminal record, but are unsure how this may affect your prospects of obtaining employment, it may be better to be open and upfront about it, explaining why you think it shouldn’t have any adverse effects on your ability to do the job you have applied for.
Expungement of a criminal record in Massachusetts
If you have had a conviction, or been in prison in the past, you can apply to have your criminal record expunged. If you do this, it won’t show up on a CORI check (see below) and you don’t have to say anything to a prospective employer about the conviction. Serious felonies cannot be expunged, but for misdemeanors, you can apply for an expungement 3 years or more after a conviction or completing prison time. You have to wait 7 years or more if you were convicted for a felony.
What is the CORI check?
CORI stands for ‘Criminal Offender Record Information.’ It is the criminal background information that a Massachusetts state court is legally allowed to provide on request. It does not provide any information about criminal records in any other state, or a federal criminal record and certainly not any international criminal records. That doesn’t mean that an employer wouldn’t apply to inspect your criminal record in other jurisdictions, especially if you have lived or worked out of Massachusetts.
Unless the job you have applied for is particularly sensitive, it is likely that a prospective employer would only apply for a CORI check and not go into the extra bureaucratic hassle of applying for a check from anywhere else.
In Massachusetts, a criminal background check would reveal whatever criminal records are held by the Massachusetts state court system. This includes any pending criminal offenses, as well as convictions for both misdemeanors and felonies.
What other checks might an employer or landlord make?
Most people applying for a job or trying to rent a property do not have a criminal record and are not concerned about a CORI check made on them, but is that where it stops? It all depends on the employer and what competition you face for the job as well as the concerns that the employer has about who they employ. Employers, or landlords, may carry out other background checks in addition to a CORI check. Things like qualifications, educational background, past job experience and testimonials or references are all obvious things that employers may want to see evidence of. Landlords, banks and other financial agencies may want to see your credit history in addition to a CORI check.
Criminal background checks for firearm purchasers
A CORI check is not used when you wish to purchase a firearm. Instead, a national database, called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used whenever you intend purchasing a firearm. The database is not just confined to Massachusetts like the CORI check, but it also does not provide the depth of information that CORI does. The NICS database provides information which can be sued to prevent or allow people to buy a firearm. Those with an indictment that could translate to a prison sentence of more than 1 year are automatically barred from purchasing a firearm.
Privacy issues concerning criminal background checks
There are a number of regulations that help to make the results of criminal background checks private and only available to those who have the legal authority to access them. CORI check results can only be held for three years by whoever requested them, for example and the results must be stored securely apart from other personnel data. If you have applied for a job, it is typically in the final stages of recruitment (e.g. if you have been shortlisted) that a CORI check will be made. The employer must ask for your consent via a release form. If the results of the check lead to the employer deciding that it has had a negative effect on their decision to employ you, then they must discuss this with you and you have the right to request proof of accuracy and a copy of the relevant background check information that has informed them of your unsuitability.
The state government from time to time updates rules on CORI checks and who can access them and in what circumstances. In April, for example, the rules were changed temporarily to allow verification of identity by employers and others who had requested a CORI check by video link, rather than i.d. check in person because of the Covid-19 response.
Contact an employment lawyer if you need legal advice
Contact a Massachusetts employment law attorney if you have any concerns about a criminal background check, to help with having your record sealed or expunged, or to contest a credit or residential tenancy denial based on a previous criminal record. In Winchester MA, contact the Law Offices of Richard Mucci at 781-729-3999.