Criminal Records and Applying For Jobs: What Are Your Rights?

prepared by Mass Legal Help

Q: What is CORI?

A: CORI stands for Criminal Offender Record Information. It is a record of your Massachusetts criminal history, including any time you were arraigned in court on a criminal charge, no matter what the final outcome of the charge was.

Q: Who can see my CORI, and how much do they get to see?

A: Many employers are allowed or required to do CORI checks on people who are applying for jobs. A CORI check means that the employer asks the Massachusetts Criminal History Systems Board for a copy of your criminal record. Most employers will get to see only convictions and cases that are still open. But some employers, like nursing homes, are also allowed to see charges you were not convicted of. Public housing authorities are also allowed to see CORI, but they can only see convictions and open cases.

Q: Can I see my own CORI?

A: Yes. It is a good idea to request your own CORI, especially if you are not sure what is on your record. The Personal CORI Request Form is available on the Internet at or call 617-660-4640.

Some courts have the form available as well. The form must be notarized and mailed to the Criminal History Systems Board with a self-addressed stamped envelope. There is a $25 fee, but if you cannot afford $25, you can fill out an Affidavit of Indigency, also found on the website listed above, to have the fee waived. Once you get your CORI, you should look it over to make sure it is accurate. If you think there are mistakes, you should contact
the probation department of the court that handled the charges you think are wrong.

Q: Is a CORI report easy to understand?

A: No, a CORI report is hard to read. It is important to get help understanding it so you know exactly what is on your record. For example, you might think you were convicted of a crime, when it was actually “Continued Without a Finding” (or “CWOFed’) and then dismissed. You can also check to see whether the convictions on your record are misdemeanors (less serious crimes) or felonies (more serious crimes). The website of the Criminal History Systems Board provides some help ( You can also try asking for help from the probation department of a court, or from a lawyer who
has experience with criminal histories.

Q: When I apply for a job in Massachusetts, what are employers allowed to ask me about my criminal record?

A: Massachusetts employers can ask 2 questions around your criminal history:

1) If you have ever been convicted of a felony.

A conviction means that you were found guilty of the crime you were charged with. You might have pled guilty, or your might have been found guilty by a jury or judge.

2) If you have been convicted of or been in jail for a misdemeanor within the past five years, other than a first conviction for things like drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, minor traffic violations, or disturbance of the peace.

o If you answer that you do have a conviction or period of incarceration for a misdemeanor from the past five years, the employer can then ask you about misdemeanors that happened more than five years ago.

Q: Are there things an employer is not allowed to ask me about?

A: Yes. Massachusetts employers are not allowed to ask you about arrests, detentions, or any violations of law from which no conviction resulted. In other words, you do not have to tell an employer about charges that you were not found guilty of. Employers also cannot ask about misdemeanors where the date of conviction or end of incarceration, whichever is later, happened five or more years ago, with no convictions since then. You also do not have to tell employers about criminal records that have been sealed (see below). You do not have tell employers about delinquency cases, or cases in which you were a “Child in Need of Services” (CHINS), as long as the case was not transferred to Superior Court for criminal prosecution.
Q: What does it mean to get a criminal record sealed? Can I get my record sealed?
A: When a record is sealed it means that people outside the criminal justice system cannot see it. The police and the courts can still see it, but for almost everyone else it is like the charge does not exist. Some Massachusetts criminal records can be sealed. If they are sealed, most employers will not be able to see them when they do a CORI check. You also do not have to tell an employer about any criminal record that has been sealed. You do not even have to say you have a sealed record. You can just say that you have “no record.”

There are long waiting periods for sealing convictions. If it has been 10 years since all of your misdemeanor convictions have closed and 15 years since all of your felony convictions have closed, then your criminal record is eligible for sealing. A case closes on the last day of prison, parole, or probation, whichever came last. You apply to have convictions sealed by filling out a form and mailing it to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation in Boston. (Telephone: 617-727-6558)

For charges you were not found guilty of, you can apply to have them sealed at the court that handled the charges. Examples of these include charges that were “nol prossed” (the prosecutor decided to dismiss them), charges that were dismissed by the court without any order of probation, or charges that ended in a finding of not guilty. There is no waiting period, but you will have to show that there is a “compelling governmental interest,” or a good reason, to seal the record. A good reason could be that the charges are preventing you from finding employment or housing. I cannot seal my record for many years.
Q: What can I do now?

A: Many people have criminal records that they will have to live with for a long time. If you are in this situation, you should create a good file on yourself with letters from people who can explain why it is unlikely that you will commit a crime again, and that you have become a productive member of society. These letters could be from employers, probation officers, clergy, counselors, treatment people, or anyone whose opinion would be respected. You can then use these letters when you are applying for jobs. The CORI system does not give people many breaks, but sooner or later a break may come, and it
will be good to be ready.


Prepared by Western Massachusetts Legal Services With Assistance of a Grant from the Union Community Fund of the Pioneer Valley

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