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What Minnesota employers need to know about background checks

Many small employers in Minnesota mistakenly think that because Minnesota is an at-will employment state, employers can hire and fire employees on their own terms. The truth is that employment relationships are governed to a certain degree by both state and federal law, and ignoring this can open employers to liability.

For example, many Minnesota employers perform some sort of criminal background check on prospective employees, but on Jan. 1 a new law will go into effect that will restrict employers' rights in this area.

Under the new law, employers may no longer include a criminal history checkbox on job applications. This is the area of the application where applicants are asked to note whether or not they have a criminal record.

Employers may still ask job seekers about their criminal history in the context of an interview, but they will not legally be allowed to do so beforehand. The point of this change is to eliminate an early obstacle to employment for those with criminal records. As it stands, many employers toss any applications that indicate a criminal record. After the new law is in effect, employers will be forced to consider a candidate's qualifications before deciding how a criminal history fits into the picture and whether that should affect a hiring decision.

The law had bipartisan support at the State Capitol, and at least one large Minnesota company is now on-board. Target has announced that it will remove the checkbox not only from its applications in Minnesota, but throughout the country, according to the Star Tribune.

It can be difficult for mid-size and small employers to keep up on the laws that govern hiring and firing. Employers in the Twin Cities area should seek legal counsel to ensure that their hiring and layoff policies and procedures align with state and federal law.

Source: Star Tribune, "Target to ban criminal history box on job applications," Janet Moore, Oct. 26, 2013

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