Home Employment Law Employment Termination Laws in Massachusetts

Employment Termination Laws in Massachusetts

muccilegal March 26, 2024

Most employees in Massachusetts are employed on hourly wages. In Massachusetts, like most other states in the U.S., they will be employed under at-will employment conditions. The exceptions are employees who are on salaries and waged employees who have an employment contract which more explicitly outlines the terms of employment, including employment termination.

At-will employment

Most employees are employed on what is commonly called at-will conditions. Basically this means that employers can fire an employee at any time without giving a reason. There are exceptions to this which are important and will be discussed later in this article. Employers don’t have it all their way. At-will employment terms also mean that an employee can decide to quit working for a particular employer and leave whenever they want without giving a reason.

Massachusetts labor laws for waged workers

Employees who are paid on hourly wages may be employed on at-will conditions. There are some labor laws that determine how much they must be paid. The state has a relatively high minimum hourly wage rate of $15 an hour, well above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

There are other wage conditions which must be met by the employer, too. Overtime rates are 50% more than the normal hourly wage. Overtime means any time worked over on top of 40 hours worked in any 7 day period. State labor laws also determine how often wages should be paid and how long employers have to pay due wages on termination of employment.

Exceptions to at-will termination

Employees who have signed an employment contract may find that the terms of employment mean that both the employer and employee have to give notice of termination. This will depend on the individual employer. There is no state wide law which determines how long an employer or an employee must give before terminating employment.

For employees who are on at-will employment terms, there are important exceptions to termination of employment at will. Employers may be in breach of both state and federal labor laws if they are responsible for an exception to at-will termination. The most important exceptions are the following:

  • Termination of employment because of discrimination against an employee belonging to a protected class, e.g. race, color, religion, ethnic origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, pregnancy;
  • Retaliation against an employee because they have acted as a whistleblower, i.e reported the employer for illegal activity;
  • Retaliation against an employee because they have refused to carry out an illegal act at work, or have applied for workers’ compensation or medical or family leave as permitted under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Wrongful termination

Employees who believe that they were fired because of any of the above reasons may file a complaint of wrongful termination with a state or federal agency. In most cases, the agency will expect the employee to provide sufficient evidence that they have been the victim of a breach of state or federal labor laws.

On receiving a genuine complaint, the agency will carry out an investigation to determine whether a breach of labor laws has taken place. In most cases, the agency will try and arrange mediation between the fired employee and his/her employer or employer’s representative. If a clear breach of labor laws has been established, there could be penalties imposed on the employer, or the employee is reinstated with some compensation.

If the relevant agency cannot resolve a wrongful termination complaint, the employee may then be given permission to take legal action against the employer through the civil court. Any employee contemplating initiating a wrongful termination lawsuit is advised to seek advice from an employment lawyer. Compensation demanded could be in the form of back pay as well as an amount for the emotional pain and suffering endured by the employment termination.

Government agencies that will investigate wrongful termination claims

Both state and federal laws protect employees from being fired at will if the reason for firing them was illegal. In Massachusetts, the agency that deals with wrongful termination claims is the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

MCAD is in charge of enforcing the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, which ensures that employees cannot be discriminated against because they belong to one or more protected categories. If you believe that you have been fired because of your age, your sex or color, for example, and not because of your work record, then you may file your claim with the MCAD.

The federal equivalent is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). This agency oversees federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Age Discrimination Act (ADA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADEA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It should be noted that you can file your complaint of wrongful termination with either agency but the EEOC will only investigate claims by employees who were working in workplaces of 15 or more employees while the MCAD will investigate claims by employees on smaller workplaces.

Statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims

Both the MCAD and the EEOC require any claim of wrongful termination to be filed within 300 days of the date of actual termination of employment. If the MCAD cannot resolve your claim, they will issue you with a “right to sue” letter. This gives you the right to pursue a civil lawsuit through the court. You have 30 days to pursue a lawsuit after this letter to sue was received.

The EEOC may also issue a right to sue letter if you filed your claim with this agency. You then have 90 days to initiate a civil lawsuit. In either case, it is advisable to seek legal help from a knowledgeable employment law attorney.

Free Consultation

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Practice Areas