Effective January 1, 2014, a recent amendment to Rhode Island law will restrict the timing of pre-employment inquiries by Rhode Island employers about a job applicant’s criminal past. Employers who are covered by the law may not inquire about an applicant’s prior criminal history until during or after the first interview with the applicant. The amendment to Rhode Island’s Fair Employment Practices law reflects the trend toward so-called “Ban the Box” laws that have been enacted in other jurisdictions. Exempt from the prohibition are applications for law enforcement agency positions or positions related to law enforcement agencies. Aggrieved individuals may file an administrative charge with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (RICHR) or a civil action alleging a violation of the Fair Employment Practices law. The RICHR and Rhode Island courts have the authority to award an aggrieved applicant with a range of remedies including back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. Rhode Island and multi-state employers need to make sure that their current job application complies with applicable law, including this new law. Given the recent attention on background checks by the EEOC, state and local fair employment agencies, and plaintiffs’ lawyers, this is an excellent opportunity for employers to review their application and hiring processes.

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