Employment Discrimination Law
Employment At Will and Discrimination
In Massachusetts, as in many other states, employment is considered “at will,” unless you have an employment contract that says something different. What that means is that either the employer or the employee can end the relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. It can be fair or unfair, carefully considered or impulsive. EXCEPT: Massachusetts and Federal employment discrimination law makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on certain characteristics that are called “protected classes,” and cannot retaliate against an employee for exercising a legally protected right.
What Are Protected Classes in Discrimination Law?
It is important to know that Massachusetts employment discrimination law protects a broader group of people than the Federal employment discrimination law.
Both Federal and Massachusetts employment law protect against discrimination based on:
What Activity is Protected Under Retaliation Law?
It is also unlawful under the employment discrimination law to fire an employee in retaliation for engaging in certain activities protected under the discrimination laws. Examples of protected activity:
As long as the activity was done in good faith (meaning the employee had a reasonable belief that unlawful sexual harassment or discrimination was taking place), they are protected from retaliation even if the complaint is found to be unsupported.
What Does This Mean for You?
This does not mean an employee in a protected class, or who engages in protected activity, can never be fired or disciplined. What it does mean is that employers should be thoughtful and consistent in their disciplinary and firing decisions, not because the law requires thoughtfulness and consistency but because, in their absence, an employee -and ultimately a judge or jury- could conclude that the reason for the employer's action was that person's membership in a protected class or because of protected activity, and therefore a violation of the employment discrimination law.