Avoiding Unlawful Retaliation: A Guide for Small Employers in Massachusetts
What Employers Need to Know About Retaliation Laws in Massachusetts
While Massachusetts follows the "at-will" employment doctrine, it's crucial for small employers to understand that certain exceptions exist to protect employees from retaliation, which could lead to costly legal troubles. In this guide, we'll explore what small employers need to know to avoid liability for unlawful retaliation and maintain a fair and compliant workplace.
Reporting or Opposing Discrimination
Small employers must be aware that employees are protected when they report or oppose workplace discrimination. This includes actions like reporting their own experiences of discrimination, participating in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) proceedings, or actively opposing discrimination within the workplace. These actions are protected as long as the employee has a reasonable, good faith belief that unlawful discrimination is occurring.
Reporting or Opposing Sexual Harassment
When employees report sexual harassment and subsequently face adverse employment actions such as termination or discipline, small employers should exercise caution. Retaliation claims can arise if the employee's belief in the harassment's unlawfulness is reasonable and in good faith.
Using Family Medical Leave or Sick Time
Massachusetts laws strictly prohibit retaliation against employees who take time off under the Paid Family Medical Leave Act (PFMLA) and the Earned Sick Time Law. Small employers should be aware that any negative actions taken within six months of an employee's request or use of leave under PFMLA are presumed retaliatory.
Asserting Rights Under the Wage and Hour Laws
Small employers should understand that employees expressing concerns about late wages, questioning overtime pay eligibility, reporting pay discrepancies, disputing independent contractor classification, or raising any wage and hour complaints should not face retaliation. It's essential to address these concerns in a compliant and non-retaliatory manner.
Filing a Workers Compensation Claim
Employees who are injured on the job have the right to workers' compensation benefits, even if the employer disputes the claim. Small employers should refrain from punishing employees for seeking these benefits or engaging in any form of retaliation related to workers' compensation.
Public Employee Whistleblower Protection
Managers or supervisors in the public sector should be aware of the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act, which provides protection to public employees, including those in state, county, city, or town roles. This protection shields them from retaliation when disclosing, threatening to disclose, or opposing potentially unlawful actions or risks to public health, safety, or the environment.
Health Care Worker Whistleblower Protection
Small employers in healthcare should note that health care providers involved in patient care receive whistleblower protection when disclosing or objecting to practices they reasonably believe violate laws, regulations, policies, or professional standards in healthcare facilities.
Preventing unlawful retaliation is essential for small employers in Massachusetts. Understanding these protections and avoiding retaliatory actions in the workplace is not only legally required but also promotes a fair and harmonious work environment. Compliance with these laws can help small employers maintain a positive reputation and avoid costly legal disputes.
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