BOSTON — The state is cracking down on businesses that discriminate against job applicants with criminal records, in violation of a nearly decade-old law, but business leaders say most employers are following the rules.
Attorney General Maura Healey's office said a recent investigation found 19 businesses, including one in Amesbury, violating the "ban the box" law, which prohibits employers from asking about someone's criminal record on a job application.
The 2010 law is meant to prohibit companies from screening people with criminal backgrounds before those applicants have an opportunity to go through the preliminary screening process.
"The pathway to economic security starts with getting a job," Healey said this week. "Too many people who have paid their debt to society still face barriers to even landing an interview."
Business leaders say the majority of companies in the state are complying, despite the attorney general's recent enforcement actions.
"Many businesses, I'm sure, unwittingly made a mistake," said Chris Carlozzi, Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade association. "Most employers are aware of the law and are complying."
Carlozzi said the requirements put many small employers in a difficult position.
"Small businesses are usually the ones to make a job offer to someone with a criminal background to give them a chance to enter the workforce," he said. "But they do want to make sure they know as part of that process who they are hiring and what type of background the individual has, to protect their customers and workforce."
Chris Geehern, a spokesman for the business trade group Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said most companies comply with the regulations.
"This law has been around for a while so they've had enough time adjust to the changes," he said.
The ban was part of a package of criminal justice reforms signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010 to address unemployment among people with criminal records. The reforms included other changes to the state’s criminal offender record information system.
The 2010 law also prohibits would-be employers from seeking details about arrests that did not lead to convictions, juvenile records and sealed records. It was updated a few years ago to shield criminal histories involving misdemeanors more than three years old. Companies are still allowed to conduct criminal background checks of prospective employees, mostly to assess whether they have a felony conviction.
As part of the attorney general's recent probe, Brooks Brothers and the Amesbury manufacturing company DesignWerkes agreed to come into compliance with the law and face $5,000 fines for their violations.
The attorney general's office also sent letters to 17 employers, warning them that they were in violation of the law and needed to come into compliance.
Last year, a similar investigation found 21 businesses in violation of the "ban the box" law. The office reached agreements with four national employers and issued warning letters to 17 other companies.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org