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Massachusetts Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Bill into Law

Published:  May 4, 2018


Governor Baker of Massachusetts recently signed a criminal justice reform bill that will limit the ability for employers to have access to criminal records from job applicants. It will also shorten the time of sealing of criminal records depending on the offense: three years for misdemeanors, and seven years for felonies. The new law raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 years old as well as decriminalizes some minor offenses for those who are juveniles. It also changes the way bail as well as fines and fees are imposed to take into account an individual’s ability to pay. The law raises the threshold at which theft is considered a felony by the state, as well as requires more humane conditions for inmates in solitary confinement. This bill is a huge step forward for the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

There are two sides represented here: employers who need to know who they’re hiring, and employees who need to overcome their past choices to work in the present. Some businesses rely on the ability to access background checks through the state Criminal Offender Records Information (CORI) system. This new bill  contains a provision for employers for hiring an individual with an unknown sealed criminal record. It should be noted that the threshold for felony larcenies have been raised from $250 to $1,200, thus categorizing more cases as misdemeanors, and also sealing the criminal records faster. Once the criminal records are sealed, employers are prohibited from inquiring about them.

Some specialty groups that are still legally allowed to inquire about criminal pasts on job applications are childcare systems, financial groups, and healthcare services. Employers are currently not allowed to inquire about criminal history in job applications. They may be permitted to inquire after the job application process, and even then, they may only ask questions pertaining to any unsealed felony convictions (with a few exceptions). CORI checks still require the applicant’s written consent, and asking the applicant to provide their own CORI records is still illegal. An employer’s best bet is to err on the side of caution.

If you have any questions or concerns about the criminal justice bill, or any labor and employment law issues, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C.