Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is warning state businesses not to unfairly discriminate against job applicants with criminal records.

Healey's office says an investigation made public Monday found 19 businesses had violated the state's "ban the box" law, which bars employers from asking about criminal record information on a candidate's initial job application.

The attorney general says the law is meant to prohibit companies from screening out people with a criminal background before they have a fair chance to go through the job process.

"Jobs are the pathway to economic security and a better life for people," Healey said in an interview. "In some instances, we found companies had asked [about criminal background on the initial application], and people were actually denied the ability to go forward with a job application process. That's what the law prohibits, and that's why this announcement is important."

Lawmakers enacted the "ban the box" law in 2010 to help reform the state’s criminal record information (CORI) system and address high unemployment and barriers to re-entry for people with criminal records. The attorney general's office says these practices especially impact communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

Questions considered illegal on an initial job application include whether applicants had ever been convicted of violating the law, whether they had ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor other than a minor traffic violation, and whether they had ever been convicted of a felony.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts spokesperson Christopher Geehern says employers have had plenty of time to adjust to the law and that he's not aware of any cases of "ban the box" violations by companies AIM represents.

"Our members tell us they are compliant with it," he said. "They've taken the questions off their employment applications. This is a law that's long since been digested and complied with by the vast majority of employers."

Healey's office agreed to terms with the clothing designer Brooks Brothers and Amesbury product design and manufacturing company DesignWerkes to come into compliance with the law, including a $5,000 fine for their violations.

Meanwhile, warning letters have been sent to the other 17 businesses found to be in violation of the law. The AG's office says all 17 employers confirmed compliance with the law following receipt of the letters.

"Hopefully they're more aware of the need to comply with the law, and that's what we expect," Healey said. "Some employers we spoke with did not know they were violating the laws by asking certain questions. Now they do."

A similar investigation by Healey's office from June 2018 discovered that 21 Massachusetts businesses were in violation of the "ban the box" law. The office reached agreements with four national employers and again issued warning letters to 17 other companies.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: eight public media companies, including The Public's Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.