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The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination recorded 2,822 discrimination complaint filings in the state in 2022. This is a substantial 13% increase from the previous fiscal year’s 2,463 complaints. Out of these filings, 2,208 stemmed from employment issues, with retaliation, disability, sex, race, and religion as top contributors. 

Massachusetts continues to work to enact several employment and labor laws to protect employees from toxic workplaces and abusive employers. The CROWN Act, one of the most recent laws passed, prohibits discrimination against employees based on natural and protective hairstyles.

The increase in discrimination complaints illustrates the current need for stronger protections in the workplace, both in the fields of employment and labor laws. Employment law deals with the rights of an individual employee, covering issues such as discrimination, wage disputes, and wrongful termination. Labor law, on the other hand, is concerned with the relationship between a group of employees under a union and their employers. This law covers collective actions like bargaining agreements or strikes.

To help workers assert their rights when faced with unfair employment practices, this article strives to educate readers on the different laws that govern labor and employment in the Bay State. It covers the minimum wage and hour laws, workplace leaves, and the statute of limitations when initiating a legal action.

Massachusetts Minimum Wage and Hour Laws

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a pro-employee state offering added protection against wage and work hours violations, including overtime pay, workplace leaves, and wage payment and deductions. The state has laid out the regulations listed below.

Minimum Wage

Under state law, the minimum wage for Massachusetts workers has been set at $15.00 per hour since January 1, 2023, and will remain the same in 2024. This is the final increase in the state’s five-year deal, although there is an ongoing campaign to push the minimum to $20. 

Workers in the agricultural sector, religious organizations, outside sales industry, or nonprofits have a minimum wage of $8.00 per hour. Any rate below the set minimum wage is defined by law as oppressive and unreasonable. Furthermore, a contract or an agreement lower than the stipulated amount is considered null and void. 

Employers can give a minimum wage of $6.75 to tipped employees who render services to customers and earn over $20 a month in tips. If their monthly wage does not meet the minimum of $15 per hour, their employer should supplement it.

Within a 15-day notice period, the commissioner may summon any company or employer found to have broken these regulations. The employer will be made to explain why their name should not be published for committing such an offense. An employee who wins against an employer who has violated these laws would receive three times the damages sustained, along with their attorney’s fees and costs. 

Furthermore, if an employer retaliates against an employee who has lodged a complaint about the violation of the Massachusetts wage and hour laws, they may be charged with up to $25,000 worth of fines or imprisonment for up to one year for the first offense. The second offense is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 along with damages of at least a month’s worth of wages or imprisonment not exceeding two years.

Overtime Pay

The maximum work hours in Massachusetts is 40 hours per week. If an employee exceeds this, they must be paid at a rate of one-and-a-half times their regular pay rate for each additional work hour. However, there are specific workers that are exempt from overtime pay:

  • A bona fide executive who earns over $80 weekly. 

  • A laborer in the agriculture or farming industry. 

  • An amusement park employee. 

  • A stay-in residential home caretaker or janitor who receives less than $30 weekly. 

  • A worker in a sanitorium, nursing home, rest home, or hospital.

Wage Payment

A Massachusetts employee should get their wages for all the hours that they have worked. These include all the hours when the worker is on duty, either at their work site or in another location, before and after their normal shift to accomplish tasks, and travel time during the course of their workday. 

Employers should pay hourly workers weekly or biweekly. The deadline to give wages depends on the number of days that the employee has worked within the calendar week. If the employee worked for five to six days, their payment should be made six days after the end of their pay period. If they worked one to four days or seven days, they should be paid seven days after the end of their pay period.

Additionally, resigned employees should get their pay in full on the next regular payday. If the company doesn't have a regular payday, they should receive payment by the first Saturday following the date of their resignation. Those who were laid off or fired must receive their full wages on their last day of work.

Wage Deductions

Employers may not deduct wages unless requested by their employees in writing for their own benefit or if it is permitted by law, such as deductions for wage withholding taxes. They are also not allowed to take funds from an employee’s wages for their own purposes, like procuring necessary materials and tools for the job or covering routine business expenses. Employers must, for instance, purchase or rent a uniform for their employees or reimburse them for the expense if they require their employees to wear one.

Workplace Leaves


Massachusetts employees are entitled to several types of paid and unpaid leaves under federal and state law. Employers must grant these leaves to eligible employees while following regulations. While the Federal Medical Leave Act and the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act sound similar, they have differences in terms of eligibility and coverage. 

The FMLA applies to all 50 states. This unpaid leave is meant to protect the job of an employee who will make use of this option. 

Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks off within a one-year period if their reason for taking a leave is any of the following: 

  • To take care of a newborn.

  • To handle the placement of a child in foster care.

  • To respond to an urgent notification of reporting for duty by the Armed Forces.

  • To take care of a family member who is a service member.

  • To take care of a family member suffering from a serious medical condition.

  • To handle their own serious health issues that make them unable to perform work duties.

If the need for leave is expected or scheduled, the employee should provide the employer with notice seven days before the date of leave. If the need is unexpected or an emergency, the notice may be submitted to the employer as soon as they can.

An employee who has utilized FMLA leave should be able to return to the same job or to a similar role with the same employment level, salary, benefits, length of service recognition, and seniority as when they left. The leave should not affect the employee’s right to bonuses, promotions, or other job benefits.

On the other hand, the Paid Family and Medical Leave of Massachusetts is a paid leave that applies to employees with a significant job history and those who meet the minimum earnings requirements set by the Department of Unemployment Assistance. Eligible employees can take up to 26 weeks of combined family and medical leave annually. Independent contractors, self-workers under MassTaxConnect, and individuals with unemployment insurance may be exempt from FMLA but can be covered by PFML.

Other Family Leave Laws in Massachusetts

The Parental Leave Law in Massachusetts may provide coverage for employees who are not FMLA-eligible. An employee who has been working for a company for three months or has completed their probationary period is eligible for this time off. They can take up to eight weeks of parental leave to perform duties like caring for a child after birth or through adoption. 

Furthermore, circumstances not classified as serious illnesses or injuries under the FMLA are also covered by the Small Necessities Leave Act. Employees may be able to take time off for up to 24 hours within a 12-month period to attend to activities such as the following: 

  • Accompanying an elderly family member to appointments.

  • Attending PTAs or other school activities that require their participation. 

  • Bringing a child to medical checkups. 

Massachusetts Discrimination Laws

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, founded in 1946, is an independent state agency that investigates discrimination complaints received from the residents of Massachusetts. 

Employers in the state with at least six employees are not allowed to discriminate against prospective and current employees based on the following:

  • Color.

  • Race.

  • Religion. 

  • Age.

  • National origin. 

  • Ancestry.

  • Genetics.

  • Gender identity.

  • Sex.

  • Mental illness.

  • Military status.

  • Disability.

  • Criminal record.

One example of an anti-discrimination law being enforced is the CORI Reform Act. This keeps employers from asking questions about a prospective employee’s criminal record prior to hiring. It also prevents them from requesting a copy of an arrest or probation record or asking for permission to release these records. Furthermore, if an employee answers the questions falsely, the law protects them from any legal action an employer may file.

Is Massachusetts an At-Will Employment State?

Yes, Massachusetts follows the at-will employment doctrine. In an at-will state, an employer can terminate an employee at any moment for any reason unless it is otherwise stated in the contract. Employers can even fire their workers for no reason at all. Employees can also resign from their jobs for any reason in an at-will employment.

There are, however, limitations to the reasons for employers terminating a worker’s employment. An employer must not fire an employee based on a protected class or characteristic. They are also prohibited from terminating a worker’s employment in retaliation for a complaint made by the employee.

Furthermore, collective bargaining agreements prevent employers from demoting, suspending, or terminating an employee without “just cause”

Firing or not hiring a person for the reasons stated can be grounds for wrongful termination, which will be further discussed below.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Massachusetts?

Although most jobs work on an at-will basis in Massachusetts, there are specific cases where firing an employee is against the law. This is known as wrongful termination.

Wrongful termination happens when employees are relieved of their duties due to their race, age, citizenship, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin. If an employer terminates a worker for asking to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act, exercising their FMLA rights, reporting sexual harassment, or whistleblowing on observed illegal activities, they may also be sued for wrongful termination.

Mass Layoffs

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN Act, has laid out rules that employers have to follow in case of closings or layoffs. Under this act, employers with at least 100 full-time employees are required to provide a written notice to employees 60 days before a mass layoff. An employer who violates this rule may pay damages and benefits for up to 60 days to the laid-off employees.

How Do You Report an Employer in Massachusetts for Wrongful Termination?

If you believe that you were wrongfully discharged from your job due to discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

MCAD is an independent state agency that enforces laws to protect Massachusetts residents against discrimination. Once the complaint is submitted, MCAD will commence an investigation to determine whether or not your case will undergo conciliation with the commission or be escalated to a public hearing.

EEOC is a federal agency that enforces workplace laws and protects individuals against discrimination in the workplace.

You have 300 days to lodge a complaint with MCAD and EEOC if you were fired due to discriminatory reasons.

A wrongful termination lawyer in Massachusetts can also help. Retaining a lawyer comes with various benefits. Your lawyer can present several options that you can use and help you prepare the necessary documentation in order to file a complaint or build a wrongful termination case. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Massachusetts?

If you were wrongfully terminated by your employer in Massachusetts, you have until three years from the date of discharge to file a tort claim.

If you believe that you were wrongfully discharged from your job due to discrimination and retaliation, you can file a complaint with the MCAD or with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory or retaliatory action. 

If the reason for wrongful termination is a breach of a written or oral contract, you have until six years to file a lawsuit.

It is important to observe the strict time limits imposed for each type of issue to have a better chance of a successful claim. If you fail to file a complaint within the allowed time, you may lose your chance to recover damages.

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Massachusetts for Wrongful Termination?

A wrongfully terminated employee in Massachusetts may sue their employers and seek monetary damages. If they win, their employer must be able to provide front pay or lost future earnings, backpay, emotional distress damages, attorney’s fees, and even punitive damages. 

The average settlement for wrongful termination claims in the state ranges from $4,000 to $100,000. A judgment after a trial can amount to anywhere between $90,000 and $350,000. Hiring an experienced employment lawyer would enable you to raise the amount of your settlement or award substantially. 

Resources for Employees in Massachusetts

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ official website contains the Massachusetts General Law, which provides a wealth of information about the employment and labor laws in Massachusetts. It also includes a comprehensive guide on how wrongfully terminated employees can file a claim against their employers.

The website also contains pertinent information about the various leaves that employees can use to take time off for various reasons.

Department of Labor Standards

The Department of Labor Standards in Massachusetts protects the rights of workers in the Bay State. It is a government department that enforces wage and hour laws and promotes safe working conditions. Some of DLS’ programs include Asbestos Safety, Deleading and Lead Safety, and Professional Employer Organization.

The Massachusetts Bar Association

The Massachusetts Bar Association is an organization of professionals in the legal field across the state. Its members include lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals. Employees and employers who are facing a legal challenge in the workplace may use the Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service to find the right attorneys who can help them resolve their problems.

MBA can be reached at 617-654-0400 or 866-267-7577, Mondays through Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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