As an employee, federal and state employment law protects you throughout the entire employment process. This guide outlines the essential regulations that protect you as an employee in Massachusetts.
Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information is illegal. Job advertisements, interviews and application decisions by an employer may not reference any of the those factors.
During the interview or at any time, employers may not ask you questions about disability, race, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age or religion. These are discriminatory in nature and have no bearing on your qualifications for the job.
At this time, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Check the U.S. Department of Labor for updates. Employers must pay at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one a half times the regular rate of pay. States may have their own laws, with additional protection. Massachusetts’ minimum wage is $8 an hour. Overtime pay is for actual hours worked over 40.
Safe Workplace Conditions
All employees have the right to work in a safe environment. Employers must offer working conditions free of known dangers and perform suitable safety training.
Employees have the right to register a complaint and request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety inspection. It is illegal for employers to retaliate, discriminate or fire employees for alerting officials to unsafe conditions.
Workers' compensation is a disability compensation program that compensates workers, or their dependents, who are injured at work or acquire an occupational disease for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.
If you are injured on the job while employed by private companies or state and local government agencies, refer to the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Advisory Council or the Department of Industrial Accidents, which covers almost all employees, including minors, non-citizens and part-time employees, regardless of occupation, business size, duration of employment or number of hours worked per day.
Paid Time Off
In Massachusetts, employers are required to pay employees for earned paid time off. There are some types of time off required by federal and perhaps state law.
The time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act gives up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off and sometimes longer. You have the right to be reinstated after leave with the same or equal position.
Employers must give an employee up to two hours off to vote if the employee requests it. The employee does not have to be paid for this time.
Harassment is illegal under federal law and Massachusetts’ state law. Harassment is conduct related to race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information, and enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct creates a hostile intimidating or abusive work environment. If harassed, a protective order can be obtained.
Massachusetts is an “employment-at-will” state. Either the employer or employee can terminate employment at any time; no reason is required.
Employers may not fire an employee for an illegal reasons. These may include: retaliation, discrimination, refusal to take a lie detector test, alien status, OSHA complaint or in violation of public policy.
Employers must give departing employees their final paychecks the day fired or next payday if the employee quits. Unused but accrued paid time off must be paid to the employee.
After Employment Benefits
Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance offers unemployment benefits to eligible workers. Benefits are approximately 50 percent of their average weekly wage, up to the maximum set by law. The current maximum benefit rate is $674 a week for a maximum of 26 weeks.
COBRA provides temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates for 18 months for all eligible former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses and dependent children. This does not include employees whose job is lost because of gross misconduct. Companies under 20 employees are excluded. The state’s Mini-COBRA benefit fills the gap for employers of fewer than 20 employees.
Contacting an Employment Lawyer in Massachusetts
Employment law is complicated. Employees with questions about their rights in the workplace should contact a Massachusetts labor and employment lawyer.