In general, at-will employment is a type of employment arrangement in which an employer or an employee is free to terminate the work relationship at any given time and for any reason or no reason at all. In other words, neither an employee nor an employer who has entered into an at-will employment arrangement will need to provide a legitimate reason for terminating the work relationship.
In fact, any reason that an employee gives for resigning from a job or that an employer provides for terminating an employee may be accepted as a proper basis. This is true so long as the reason is not found to be unlawful, illegal, or against public policy.
As such, if an employee can prove that they were fired for a reason that is unlawful, illegal, or against public policy, then they may be able to bring a wrongful termination lawsuit against their employer for monetary damages.
It is important to note, however, that wrongful termination lawsuits can be very difficult to prove. This is because both parties have a wide latitude in regard to the justifications for why they want to end the employment relationship.
The state of Massachusetts typically considers most workers to be employed under an at-will status unless there is an implied or written contract that says otherwise. For instance, if you signed an employment contract that contained a provision, which stated that you were being hired as an independent contractor instead of an at-will worker.
Employees in Massachusetts are permitted to file a claim for wrongful termination under both federal and state law. In particular, the state of Massachusetts has enacted the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, which applies to companies that have at least six employees or more. According to the state Act, employers with six workers or more may not discriminate based on the following characteristics:
- Gender identity;
- National origin or ancestry;
- Sexual orientation;
- Religious beliefs;
- Military status; and/or
- Physical or mental disabilities.
In addition, Massachusetts state law also prohibits workers from being wrongfully terminated for participating in certain protected activities associated with the workplace. These include filing a complaint for unpaid wages that a worker is entitled to or for requesting reasonable accommodations.
Finally, if you believe that your employer terminated you for a reason that would be considered illegal or wrongful under Massachusetts state law, then you may want to consider speaking to a local employment law attorney for further legal advice on the matter.
What are Grounds for Wrongful Termination in Massachusetts?
Regardless of whether an employee is considered to be an at-will worker or not, there are certain grounds under Massachusetts state labor laws that can lead to a claim for wrongful termination. Some examples of situations in which the conditions of a firing may give rise to a lawsuit for wrongful termination in Massachusetts include:
- When an employee is fired for a reason that violates a federal statute or Massachusetts state labor law, such as harassment in the workplace or employment discrimination;
- If the way in which an employee is terminated breaches the terms of an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement;
- When an employee is fired for a reason that violates public policy, such as in retaliation for engaging in a whistleblowing activity like reporting an employer for illegal conduct;
- If an employer terminates a worker in order to avoid having to provide or pay the worker employee benefits, unused vacation days, an earned commission, a bonus, disability payments, and so forth;
- When an employee is terminated as a form of punishment for joining, initiating, or causing other workers to band together in efforts that either improve working conditions or would result in receiving higher wages (e.g., labor strikes, walkouts, protests, labor unions, collective bargaining agreements, etc.);
- If a worker is fired for requesting time off to take care of a medical condition or sick family member;
- When an employee is terminated because they attempted to file a claim for worker’s compensation after being injured while on the job;
- If an employer fires an employee for cooperating in an investigation or lawsuit being brought against them; and/or
- When a worker is terminated because they refused to participate in an illegal activity after an employer demanded them to do so.
In addition, a Massachusetts worker may also have a claim for wrongful termination if they are fired for reporting illegal conduct that was carried out against a co-worker. For example, if a male colleague filed a complaint alleging that their employer is firing all female workers who are currently pregnant or on maternity leave.
Are There Any Legal Remedies for Wrongful Termination?
Depending on the circumstances of a wrongful termination lawsuit, a worker in Massachusetts may be able to recover a number of significant legal remedies if they are able to prove that they were wrongfully terminated from their job. Some common legal remedies that may be awarded to a Massachusetts worker who prevails in a wrongful termination case can include the following:
- Back wages;
- Front or future pay;
- Compensatory damages;
- Punitive damages;
- Damages for emotional distress;
- Administrative court costs;
- Attorneys’ fees; and/or
- Reinstatement of employment.
In addition, a court may also order an employer to amend their company policies, employment contracts, and/or employee handbooks to reflect a new and improved set of hiring and firing practices that comport with Massachusetts state labor laws.
What are Some Additional Related Legal Claims?
In some instances, a wrongful termination lawsuit may involve additional or overlapping legal claims within the same lawsuit. Some common examples of the types of legal claims that are often related to the issues in a wrongful termination lawsuit may include the following:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
- Harm caused to the reputation of a company;
- Work activities that violate criminal law;
- Unsafe or unhealthy working conditions;
- Statute of limitation issues;
- Claims for wrongful termination based on federal law;
- Invasion of privacy matters; and/or
- Breach of an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement.
Again, the above list only contains some common examples of the types of legal claims that a Massachusetts worker may encounter when filing a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Thus, there may be many other legal issues that arise depending on the facts of a worker’s case.
Consulting an Attorney
If you are involved in a dispute over a wrongful termination issue, then it may be in your best interest to consult with a local Massachusetts wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible. A qualified employment lawyer will be able to provide guidance on your options for legal recourse. They can also advise you on your rights as an employee under the labor and employment laws in the state of Massachusetts.
Your lawyer will be able to assess your situation and can determine if any of your rights were violated based upon their findings. Your lawyer will also be able to assist you in bringing a lawsuit against your employer if they believe you have a viable claim for wrongful termination. In addition, your lawyer will be able to provide legal representation in a Massachusetts courthouse.
Lastly, your lawyer will be able to assist you in recovering damages and/or other legal remedies for any financial losses you may have suffered due to being wrongfully terminated from your job.