Guide to Massachusetts Background Checks

Sarah Archambault
December 15, 2023
7 min read

Massachusetts employers can use background checks to help make more informed hiring decisions, mitigate potential legal risks, and create safer work environments. Employers can choose from many types of pre-employment screenings—including criminal records, driving histories, and credit reports—to learn about a candidate’s history. However, understanding federal, state, and local hiring laws can sometimes be tricky. This guide covers what employers need to know about conducting Massachusetts background checks.

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What is a Massachusetts background check?

A Massachusetts background check is gathers information about a job candidate or employee’s history from public records, online databases, professional references, and other sources. Typical screenings include criminal history, motor vehicle records, education and employment history, drug testing, civil court record searches, and more. When incorporated into the hiring process, employment background checks can help employers evaluate a job candidate’s suitability for a role and verify information found on a resume or application. 

While employment background checks in Massachusetts are not required by law for all types of roles, some positions or industries may legally mandate that candidates undergo a background check. For example, individuals applying for roles within the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) must submit to a background check in Massachusetts. Similarly, certain types of commercial drivers in the state, such as those that transport hazardous materials, are required to pass the Massachusetts Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s security background check. 

What shows up on a Massachusetts background check?

A pre-employment background check in Massachusetts may show a wide range of information, including a candidate’s criminal history, motor vehicle records, employment and education information, and civil court records. In addition, employer drug screenings can show current and prior drug use.

Here is a closer look at some of the most common types of Massachusetts state background checks:

    • Criminal background checks search an individual’s criminal record to identify arrests, convictions, incarcerations, and both current and past arrest warrants.

    • Driving record checks look into Massachusetts driving records and may include information on license status, license suspensions, traffic violations, accidents, and vehicle-related convictions.

    • Education verification validates an individual’s academic history, such as schools attended, dates of attendance, degrees earned, and graduation dates. 

    • Credit checks search an individual’s credit history and show financial information like accounts in collections, payment history, and bankruptcies. This type of check is often used for jobs that require financial responsibility.

    • Employment verification confirms a candidate’s professional work history, including past employers, positions held, and employment dates. 

    • Civil court searches gather civil court records and can return various types of non-criminal information, such as lawsuits, liens, judgments, and restraining orders.

    • Drug testing may screen an individual for common illicit substances and certain abused prescription medications. Pre-employment drug tests can help employers stay compliant with their company’s drug policy as well as industry regulations.

Massachusetts background check laws and restrictions

Massachusetts has a statewide Ban the Box law and multiple state and local fair hiring laws. Ban the Box laws are designed to help protect employees with criminal records from discrimination and remove bias from hiring processes. Organizations may wish to comply with the strictest federal, state, and local regulations and consult counsel to reduce any potential legal risks.

Ban the Box Law

Summary: Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 151B § 4 applies to all public and private sector employers. Under this law, Massachusetts employers are prohibited from asking questions on a job application about a candidate’s criminal history (with some exceptions). Employers are also not allowed to ask candidates about arrests, detentions, or dispositions that did not result in a conviction. Candidates also cannot be asked about any misdemeanors older than three years, first convictions for certain types of misdemeanors, or any sealed or expunged criminal records. See law

Massachusetts SB 2371, Ch. 69 of Acts of 2018

Summary: This act strengthened Massachusetts’ Ban the Box law by further restricting what an employer can ask a candidate about their criminal history. Under this law, employers may not ask candidates about misdemeanor convictions that occurred more than three years prior (instead of five years) or expunged records. See law.

Massachusetts SB 2583, Ch. 256 of the Acts of 2010

Summary: This act reformed administrative procedures relative to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) in Massachusetts, including by installing a criminal record review board. This amendment also states that a person in possession of a job candidate’s criminal record (whether obtained from the state or any other source) must provide the candidate with the record in their possession prior to questioning them about their criminal history. See law.

CORI Policy — Massachusetts General Laws, Ch.6 §171A 

Summary: Under this law, employers that conduct five or more Massachusetts criminal record checks are required to have a written Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) policy. The policy must state that the employer will provide a candidate with notice of a potential adverse decision based on criminal offender record information on a CORI record, a copy of the criminal record information, a copy of the written CORI policy, and information about the process to correct criminal records. See law

Massachusetts General Laws, Ch.93 §52

Summary: This law prohibits consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), like Checkr, from reporting adverse information older than seven years on background checks. This seven-year reporting period applies to arrests and convictions, accounts in collections, civil lawsuits, and paid tax liens. See law.

Massachusetts Pay Equity Act

Summary: This law is designed to help protect the privacy of a candidate’s salary history. Massachusetts employers are prohibited from asking about a candidate’s salary history or wages from previous places of employment during the hiring process. See law

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Summary: Massachusetts employers that choose to partner with a CRA to conduct background checks are required to adhere to regulations set out by this federal law. Under this act, employers must provide a candidate with written notice of the intent to perform a background check and receive the candidate’s consent back in writing. Should information be returned during the search that causes an employer to not move forward with hiring an individual, the adverse action process should be followed. See law. 

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Local Massachusetts fair hiring laws 

Local Ban the Box laws apply in certain Massachusetts counties and cities, including: 

    • Middlesex County: A Ban the Box law applies to public sector employers.

    • Boston: A Ban the Box applies to City of Boston employers.

    • Cambridge: A Ban the Box law applies to City of Cambridge vendors. 

    • Worcester: A Ban the Box law applies to City of Worcester employers and vendors.

How long does an employment background check take in Massachusetts?

Employers conducting a Massachusetts background check for employment can expect turnaround times to vary from just a few minutes to a couple of weeks, depending on who is performing the screening and what types of reports are requested. Hiring managers who conduct background checks themselves may find that the process takes longer and involves more manual labor, especially if reports need to be ordered by phone or in person from a Massachusetts court or law enforcement. 

On the other hand, Massachusetts employers who partner with a qualified CRA, like Checkr, can benefit from a more streamlined background check process. With Checkr, employers get access to advanced technology that gathers and sorts records from thousands of public record databases, along with easy-to-use dashboards and automated workflows that help speed hiring and enable compliance. Plus, Checkr’s candidate portal provides candidates with a transparent view of their background check and additional support resources. 

How far back does a background check go in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 93 §52 limits most Massachusetts background checks to seven years when they are conducted by a CRA, and the misdemeanor lookback period is three years per MA SB 2371. Employers that partner with a CRA must also adhere to the FCRA’s allowable reporting periods. While the FCRA has no limit on reporting criminal convictions, under state law, reporting for both arrests and convictions may be limited to seven years depending on the charge. Civil matters such as accounts in collections, civil lawsuits, and paid tax lines also have a seven-year limitation according to state law and the FCRA. Bankruptcies can be reported as far back as 14 years in Massachusetts for positions with an expected salary over $75,000, and up to 10 years for positions with a lower salary as outlined in the FCRA. 

FCRA limitations may not apply to roles with an expected salary of over $75,000 or to other types of screenings, like education or employment verification.

Employers that conduct background checks on their own, without the help of a CRA, are not subject to the reporting limits of either the FCRA or Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 93 §52, but should consult with their legal counsel to understand what rules and regulations might apply. 

How far back does a CORI check go in Massachusetts?

Lookback periods for CORI records vary depending on the type of conviction and whether an employer has Standard Access or Required Access to CORI according to state law.  Exisiting federal and state law related to lookback periods as discussed above still apply, expect for exempted roles and industries.

Employers with Standard Access to CORI records—such as transportation companies or retail stores—may view all pending cases and all convictions for murder, manslaughter, and sex offenses with no lookback restraints. Misdemeanors are reportable for five years, while felonies are reportable for ten years—determined by the disposition date or incarceration date (whichever is later). Not-guilty findings by reason of insanity are also reportable for ten years.

Employers with Required Access to CORI records—such as schools, nursing homes, religious organizations, and hospitals—may not be subject to the above lookback limits for convictions and may have broader access to non-conviction information, depending on their access level. Access to CORI records is also expanded for law enforcement employers.

Employers in Massachusetts should review their level of CORI access to better understand which records they can access and how far back those records go.

How to get a Massachusetts background check

Massachusetts employers can choose to perform pre-employment background checks themselves or work with a qualified CRA, like Checkr. 

Employers performing background searches themselves will need to request records online, by mail, or in person from a variety of sources, including law enforcement agencies, courthouses, previous employers, and educational institutions. For example, employers may request Massachusetts driving records online through the Driver Verification Program (DVS). 

Conducting background checks directly can take up valuable staff time and may even result in errors, including compliance violations, which could put an organization at risk. Hiring managers that work with a trusted CRA often experience a more efficient process with more comprehensive, accurate reporting, and faster turnaround times. A CRA, like Checkr, can perform multiple types of background checks at scale and provide access to built-in compliance support that helps you manage compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

How much does an MA background check cost?

Massachusetts employers that choose to perform Massachusetts background checks directly will need to pay out of pocket for individual reports, and the fees can vary. For example, employers can expect to pay about $8 per driving record and $25 per criminal record. Employers who work with a trusted CRA, like Checkr, can benefit from customized pricing packages that start at just $29.99—allowing you to only pay for the screenings you need and reduce overhead costs associated with manual ordering processes.

Get a Massachusetts background check with Checkr

Checkr helps Massachusetts employers of all sizes streamline their background check process, see faster turnaround times, and improve risk management. Our mmodern background check platform provides more accurate results and comprehensive reporting, along with easy-to-use dashboards, automated tools, and built-in compliance workflows. Plus, Checkr offers access to multiple screening options and integrates seamlessly with 100+ ATS and HRIS platforms. Get started with Checkr today.

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About the author

Sarah writes about small business topics and corporate communications. She has written on a wide range of topics, including background checks, hiring trends, company culture, and employee training and development. Her work includes educational articles, press releases, newsletters, and employee onboarding collateral. 

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