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State LawsMassachusetts

Massachusetts Background Checks

A guide to Massachusetts background checks

Massachusetts employers may use pre-employment background checks as part of their hiring process to help verify a candidate’s qualifications. There are many different types of background checks available, including criminal history, employment and education verification, and driving records. No matter the type of search, employers conducting a background check must follow federal, state, and local laws to remain in compliance.

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Massachusetts background checks can help provide employers with insight that goes beyond a candidate’s employment application or resume. During the hiring process, employers may choose to  screen candidates directly or partner with a trusted consumer reporting agency (CRA). This guide to Massachusetts background checks reviews the details of what they include, how they’re conducted, and which federal, state, and local laws may apply. 

What Is A Massachusetts Background Check? 

Employers in Massachusetts may choose to use one or several types of background checks to make informed hiring decisions about job candidates or when bringing on volunteers. A Massachusetts background check generally involves reviewing information from different types of public records to collect more information or verify information they have been given. Reports typically include a candidate’s criminal record, driving records, or employment history.  Employment background checks in Massachusetts may also be used for ongoing or periodic employee screenings. 

How Long Does A Background Check In Massachusetts Take? 

The turnaround time for an employment background check in Massachusetts will vary, depending on the type of reports being requested and who is conducting the screening. 

For example, employers choosing to conduct a Massachusetts criminal background check on their own must submit a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) request through the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. CORI is a name and date-of-birth based search of a candidate’s criminal court appearances in Massachusetts. The results may take up to ten days, but it is not a comprehensive criminal record.

For more timely and comprehensive results, employers may wish to partner with a qualified CRA, like GoodHire, for background screenings. Although Massachusetts law restricts CRAs from using CORI unless certain requirements are met, GoodHire has access to additional regularly updated databases and public records, as well as access to courthouses nationwide—all of which helps speed turnaround times (and return thorough results) for background checks.

How Far Back Does A Background Check Go In Massachusetts?

How far back a candidate’s history can be searched legally and used compliantly can vary in Massachusetts. Generally, employment background checks cover seven years of criminal and court records. However, this time frame can be affected by state employment laws and federal regulations such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which governs pre-employment background checks.

The FCRA forbids consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which include third-party background check providers and the national credit bureaus, from reporting the following information in a consumer report or background check: 

  • Civil suits, civil judgements, and records of arrest older than 7 years
  • Paid tax liens older than 7 years from the date of the report
  • Collections accounts, such as unpaid bills turned over to collections agencies, older than 7 years from the date of the report
  • Other adverse information, aside from criminal convictions, that is older than 7 years from the date of the report 

The FCRA permits background check providers to report records of criminal convictions indefinitely. Arrest records and cases where the charges were dismissed or court proceedings did not lead to conviction may only be reported for up to seven years under the FCRA. In Massachusetts, however, reporting of all types of criminal cases, regardless of the outcome, is limited to seven years. The FCRA also limits bankruptcies to ten years from the date of the report, but Massachusetts law permits reporting as far back as 14 years. 

These FCRA limits do not apply to positions that pay $75,000 or more annually or when conducting background checks without the help of a CRA. Massachusetts state law limitations apply to background checks conducted by a CRA regardless of the position’s salary.

How Far Back Does A CORI Background Check Go In Massachusetts?

How far back a standard CORI background check goes in Massachusetts depends on the type of conviction. Misdemeanors are shown for five years and felonies are shown for 10 years–both timeframes are dependent on the disposition date or incarceration release date (whichever is later). Findings of not guilty by reason of insanity are also available for 10 years. All convictions for murder, manslaughter, and sex offenses are shown indefinitely, unless sealed or expunged. If an employer or organization is authorized to request CORI data, all conviction information is available without a lookback restriction.

What Shows Up On A Massachusetts CORI Check?       

A Massachusetts CORI check shows information on Massachusetts criminal histories. There are several levels of access to the CORI system, but standard access will show:

  • Convictions for murder, manslaughter, and sex offenses
  • Felony convictions less than ten years old
  • Misdemeanor convictions less than five years old
  • Pending offenses

To expand the search of a candidate’s criminal record to other states, an employer may wish to use additional screenings. Employers may choose to work with a qualified CRA, like GoodHire, to conduct these comprehensive screenings, such as national, state, or federal background checks.

The CORI system does not have fingerprint information, such as arrest records, available to the general public. Employers who are required to conduct fingerprint-based background checks may wish to work directly with the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services to obtain them as CRAs typically don’t offer fingerprint-based services. 

Here’s how the the different levels of access in CORI break down:

Required Level 1

  • Types of employers: Financial institutions, health care, insurance, etc. 
  • Available criminal records: All adult convictions and pending cases, plus civil and non- incarcerable  offenses
  • Unavailable criminal records: Sealed, expunged, juvenile, youthful offender, civil, and non-incarcerable offense or non-convictions

Required Level 2

  • Types of employers: Schools, in-home care and assisted living, religious organizations, etc. 
  • Available criminal records: All adult convictions, pending cases, and non-convictions, plus civil and non- incarcerable offenses
  • Unavailable criminal records: Sealed, expunged, juvenile, youthful offender, civil, and non-incarcerable offenses

Required Level 3

  • Types of employers: Kids summer camps, etc. 
  • Available criminal records: All adult convictions, non-convictions, and youthful offender, plus juvenile, delinquent, not-delinquent, and pending cases
  • Unavailable criminal records: Sealed, expunged, civil, and non-incarcerable offenses

Required Level 4

  • Types of employers: Early education, childcare, etc.
  • Available criminal records: All adult convictions, non-convictions, and youthful offender, plus juvenile offender delinquent, not-delinquent, pending cases, and sealed offenses
  • Unavailable criminal records: Expunged, civil, and non-incarcerable offenses

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Massachusetts Background Check Laws

Employers that conduct background checks in Massachusetts must comply with federal and state regulations, as well as local laws, such as ban-the-box and fair hiring laws. These laws are designed to help protect candidates from bias and discrimination should information surface during criminal background checks. 

Here is what you need to know about Massachusetts background check laws. 

Ban-the-Box Law

Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 151B §4 applies to all employers (both public and private sector) when conducting employment background checks. The law prohibits employers from inquiring about:

  • An arrest, detention, or disposition that did not result in a conviction
  • A first conviction for a certain misdemeanors
  • Misdemeanors more than three years old 
  • Sealed or expunged criminal records

Employers may not request that a candidate disclose criminal history on an initial application form, with some exceptions. 

CORI Policy Requirement

An additional requirement is applicable to employers that conduct five or more criminal background checks per year. The entity conducting the criminal background check must have a written CORI policy that states it will:

  • Notify the applicant of the potential adverse decision based on the criminal offender record information
  • Provide a copy of the criminal offender record information and the policy to the applicant
  • Provide information concerning the process for correcting a criminal record. 

M.G.L. Ch.93 §52

This Massachusetts law prevents CRAs from reporting adverse information about a candidate if the information is older than seven years. Under this law, information about arrests and convictions of a crime older than seven years cannot be included in background reports. Reporting of accounts in collections, paid tax liens, and civil lawsuits are also limited to seven years. Bankruptcies can be reported, but if they are older than fourteen years, they cannot be included in a Massachusetts pre-employment background check. However, FCRA restrictions limit bankruptcy reporting to 10 years.

M.G.L. Ch.93 §62

Under this law, Massachusetts employers who decide against hiring a candidate due to information found in a background screening need to follow certain legal steps. As an employer in Massachusetts, once you have made your decision, you have ten days to let a candidate know they will not be hired. Notice must be in writing and include information about the application’s legal rights as well provide the name, address, and phone number of the CRA used for the reporting.

Massachusetts Pay Equity Act

This law helps protect the salary history of employees. According to this legislation, Massachusetts employers cannot request information from candidates related to salary history or wages earned at any previous places of employment. 

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

In addition to state and local laws, whether you are conducting background checks yourself or using a CRA, employers must comply with federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements. These include the proper disclosure of your intent to conduct a background check, obtaining written consent from the candidate, and following the adverse action process should you decide not to extend an offer of employment due to pre-employment screening results.

If you are unsure of which background check laws apply to your Massachusetts background check, employers may wish to comply with the strictest laws to avoid potential liability. 

County Resources

Use the resources below to learn about ban-the-box laws and public records in some of Massachusetts’ largest counties:

Barnstable County

This Massachusetts county includes all of Cape Cod, a large peninsula made up of fifteen towns, and is home to more than 220,000 people. The county seat is the town of Barnstable and other main towns include Yarmouth, Falmouth and Sandwich. In 1620, the Pilgrims and their ship the Mayflower landed at the Cape before settling in Plymouth to the west. Today, the Cape is known for its beautiful beaches, lighthouses, and historic architecture. The summer months bring a thriving tourist industry. 

Public Information & Records

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Bristol County

Located to the west of Cape Cod, Bristol County is home to more than 580,000 residents. The county seat is Taunton. Parts of the county support the Cape’s tourism industry, in the neighboring county of Barnstable, while other key industries include textiles, electronic components, and primary metals. The county is also home to several universities, including Southern New England School of Law, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and Wheaton College. 

Public Information & Records

Essex County

Essex County is one of Massachusetts’ first three counties and located in the top northeastern corner of the state, bordering New Hampshire. It is the third most populous county in Massachusetts and has more than 800,000 residents. Due to its rich colonial history, the National Park Service has designated the entire country part of the Essex National Heritage area. The county seat is Salem, a coastal town, and other coastal communities include Gloucester, Rockport, and Newburyport. Essex County is also known as the birthplace of several industries, including iron and steel, wool, and shoemaking.

Public Information & Records

Hampden County

Located in the southwest corner of Massachusetts, Hampden County borders Connecticut and is home to over 460,000 people. The county has mountains and forests with the Connecticut River running through. Both the sports of basketball and volleyball were started in Hampden County, and the Basketball Hall of Fame is located in the city of Springfield. Major industries include healthcare and manufacturing of a range of products including, computers, dairy, firearms, sports equipment, paper, and plastic. 

Public Information & Records

Middlesex County

Middlesex County is home to over 1.6 million residents and located in northeastern Massachusetts. It is the largest county in Massachusetts and the New England region and ranks nationally both in population and average household income. It’s one of the top manufacturing counties in the US and is known for textiles and aerospace and defense technology. The county seat is Cambridge, a city known for its famed higher education institutions, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

Public Information & Records

A local ban-the-box law applies to public sector employers and vendors for the city of Cambridge.

Norfolk County

Norfolk County is home to more than 725,000 residents and is located in eastern Massachusetts. It borders Rhode Island to the south, and many of the towns in the county are considered residential suburbs of the city of Boston making it one of the wealthiest counties in the US. Higher education institutions include Babson College and Wellesley College. The country also boasts many historic landmarks, including the homes of several US presidents – John F. Kennedy, John Adams, and John Quincy Adams. 

Public Information & Records

Plymouth County

Plymouth County is located in eastern Massachusetts, to the west of Cape Cod. Over 530,000 people live in the county. It is known for its rich colonial history, including the settling of the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, and the celebration of the first Thanksgiving. It also has one of the oldest sheriff’s departments in the US. The county has a thriving tourist industry and has many historical landmarks, arts and culture, and coastal activities. Plymouth County is the cranberry capital in the US, and is one of the top agricultural counties in Massachusetts. It’s also known for shoe manufacturing and at one time, shipbuilding.

Public Information & Records

Suffolk County

Suffolk County is unique in that it does not have a county government, but is made up of four cities: Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. The county’s top industries include financial services, insurance, food processing, printing, and telecommunications. Tourists also flock to Boston for arts and cultural events, sports, conventions, and to visit the city’s many historical landmarks. Suffolk County is also home to dozens of colleges, including Boston University, Northeastern University, and Berklee College of Music. 

Public Information & Records

A local ban-the-box law applies to public sector employers for the city of Boston.  

Worcester County

Home to more than 682,000 residents, Worcester County is located in central Massachusetts, bordering New Hampshire to the north and Connecticut and Rhode to the south. It is the second most populous county in the state. Worcester is the county seat and the second largest city in both Massachusetts and New England, after Boston. The city is an industrial hub and also home to several universities, including College of the Holy Cross and Clark University. In addition to the manufacturing of plastic products and metalworking machinery, the county also produces agricultural products. 

Public Information & Records

Get A Massachusetts Background Check With GoodHire

A trusted CRA, like GoodHire, can help employers streamline their Massachusetts background check process with both accuracy and quick turnaround times. Plus, working with a qualified CRA can help you more easily navigate legal compliance.
GoodHire offers more than 100 screening options – including criminal background checks, credit history, and motor vehicle records. Save time using our user-friendly online platform with built-in, automated workflows. Need more support? GoodHire’s FCRA-trained support team is here to help you every step of the way. Get in touch with our sales team to learn how to get started with Massachusetts background checks.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.