Changes in Human Resources Laws: Could They Affect You?

There have been several noteworthy changes to Human Resources laws in Massachusetts in 2010. All employers should be sure they are up-to-date and educated on the recent changes in the laws. The following are highlights of the important changes in Human Resources laws over the last year.

In August, 2010, Governor Patrick signed the CORI Reform Bill. This statute prohibits employers of six or more employees from asking about a job applicant’s criminal conviction history on a job application. The law, appropriately coined the “ban the box” law, requires employers of six or more employees to remove any questions regarding an applicant’s criminal history from the initial job application. It does not prohibit employers from asking a job applicant’s criminal conviction history at a later stage of the job application process such as during an interview. However, employers seeking to use such information to make an adverse decision or question an applicant about his/her criminal history will be required to provide a copy to the applicant prior to questioning him/her about it.

Significantly, in 2012, employers will be able to obtain conviction information from the newly formed Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (“DCJIS”). This will likely be a fee based login system for employers. Employers will benefit by using DCJIS because they will be immune from liability if they decide not to hire an applicant based on information in the conviction report that is erroneous or for claims of negligent hiring.

In addition, there is an amendment to the existing law regarding personnel records in recent economic development legislation. The amendment requires employers to notify an employee within 10 days of placing information into his/her personnel record that may negatively affect the employee’s compensation, promotion, transfer or the possibility of disciplinary action. Noteworthy, is the use of the term “personnel record.” Personnel record encompasses more than simply an employee’s personnel file. A personnel record is broader and by way of example, includes documents in sub-files kept by managers. The consequences for failing to comply with the new legislation could result in the exclusion of important evidence if a former employee files suit.

Finally, on September 30, 2010, Massachusetts’ ban on texting while driving went into effect. There was much media coverage regarding the new law and how it would impinge on individual drivers. Significantly, this new texting ban affects employers as well. Employers should revise Employee Handbooks to include this new texting ban. In addition, employers should inform employees about distracted driving. Employers may want to suggest to their employees to only make emergency calls when driving and to pull over when reading/composing emails. Such written enforced policies could potentially limit future employer liability.


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