In addition to federal employment law, Massachusetts has its own set of employment laws. These laws are designed both to protect employees and allow employers to freely conduct business. So, the employment laws of Massachusetts are broad and cover a wide variety of issues. Some general topics include:
"At Will" Employment
Every state, with the exception of Montana, is recognizes at-will employment. At-will employment refers to a type of relationship where the employee may be terminated at any time, for nearly any reason, without "just cause" and without notice.
Initially, the at-will structure seems incredibly lopsided. However, it attempts to maintain balance by offering the employee freedom to retire or explore other employment opportunities without the fear of legal recourse.
There are some important exceptions to the at-will employment rule. For instance, an individual can never be fired based on:
- Race, color, national origin and ancestry
- Age, if 40 and above
- Sex or Gender
- Sexual Harassment
- Sexual Orientation
- Military status, including veteran, National Guard, or reserve
- Genetic information
- Criminal record
In addition to these general categories, there are several other specific grounds an employer cannot use as the basis of termination.
Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws
Massachusetts wage and hour laws covers the minimum of what every worker is entitled to, when workers must be paid, and when more or less money is legally due.
1. Minimum Wage: Currently, the minimum wage in Massachusetts is $8.00. The law requires Massachusetts to maintain a minimum wage that is at least $0.10 higher than the federal minimum wage.
Minimum wage may vary based on the age of the employee, whether or not the employee worked for tips, or if that employee qualifies under an exemption. Typically, however, all workers will be compensated a minimum of $8.00 per hour worked.
2. Overtime: One exception to the minimum wage is overtime. Overtime is when an employee works 40 or more hours in any one week. The employer must pay the employee at least 1 1⁄2 times the regular rate of pay for any hour worked over 40. So, if an employee earns minimum wage, the employee’s rate of pay for every hour over 40 would be $12.00 per hour.
There are several exceptions to the overtime rule, including:
- Outside salespeople
- Golf caddies
- Live-in janitor or caretakers
- Truck drivers
3. Withheld Wages: Massachusetts requires that wages be paid within 6 days of a pay period, or immediately upon termination. Moreover, an employer cannot withhold payment of full wages or deduct from wages, with the exception of taxes, insurance, union dues, retirement contributions and other voluntary agreements. Importantly, employers cannot make deductions for lost or damages property.
4. Treble Damages: One more important note about Massachusetts’ wage and hour laws is the availability of treble damages for prevailing employees. Moreover, prevailing employees will be entitled to have their court costs and attorney’s fees paid for. What this effectively means is if an employer violates the law, and an employee brings suit, they will be entitled to three times their damages, e.g., lost wages, as well as their cost in having to bring the suit.
Are There Protections from Discrimination and Sexual Harassment?
Yes. Every state offers some protection from discrimination and sexual harassment based on federal law. Massachusetts’ law includes:
- Discrimination: Protected classes include every class listed in the "at-will" section.
- Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature at the workplace.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you believe you have had your rights violated as an employee, you should contact an employment attorney immediately. An employment attorney will be able to assess your case under Massachusetts law, and help ensure you are treated with the respect you deserve.