Illegal employment discrimination under federal and Massachusetts laws

Employers must take care not to allow discrimination or harassment in hiring or the terms or conditions of employment based on certain traits.

Strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws protect Massachusetts job applicants and employees against negative or less favorable treatment based on certain protected characteristics. Legal remedies for violations are available through both state and federal governmental agencies and courts.

In general, federal employment discrimination laws apply to employers that regularly employ at least 15 people and Massachusetts laws to those regularly employing at least six.

Illegal job discrimination does not only apply to hiring and firing, but also to any other term or condition of employment like job assignments, promotions, pay, benefits, training opportunities and so on. Unlawful harassment occurs when a hostile work environment is created because of severe or frequent comments, teasing, humiliation, crude humor, pictures or images, or gestures based on a protected characteristic (such as religion or age).

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is created by a management request for sexual favor in exchange for a perk of employment or to prevent a negative employment consequence such as termination.

Seek legal counsel

Employer adherence to these laws as well as responding to internal reports, agency complaints or lawsuits are complex. For these reasons, it is smart for a Massachusetts employer to develop a relationship with legal counsel who practices employment law for ongoing guidance in developing anti-discrimination policies and training, understanding compliance and avoiding violation, responding appropriately to reports of discriminatory behavior, conducting internal investigations and, if necessary, responding to an agency complaint or lawsuit.

On the other side, for job applicants and employees in the Bay State, it can also be important to seek the advice of an employment attorney if discrimination or harassment is experienced. A lawyer can answer questions about the law and how it may apply, how to respond to a perpetrator, whether and how to complain about the problem to management, and under what circumstances quitting is appropriate.

Legal counsel can also advise the employee about the complicated choices to be made among available remedies and represent the victim in a legal action such as an agency complaint or lawsuit, including compliance with sometimes rigid deadline and notice provisions.

Kinds of unlawful employment discrimination and harassment

Protected characteristics under either federal or Massachusetts law, or both, include:

  • Age discrimination applies to those treated unfavorably based on having reached at least 40 years old
  • Disability , including certain employer responsibilities to make reasonable accommodations for otherwise qualified individuals
  • National origin
  • Citizenship or immigration status
  • Race or color
  • Religion , including certain employer responsibilities to make accommodations such as to schedules or dress codes, if they are not undue hardships to the employer
  • Sex , including pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity , explicitly unlawful under Massachusetts law and recognized as impliedly unlawful under federal law by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination law
  • Military status
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Criminal records or history , in certain circumstances under state law

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains about discrimination or harassment, files a claim, or cooperates in an investigation or lawsuit brought by another person.

With offices in downtown Boston, the lawyers of The Employee Rights Group, LLC represent job applicants and employees in matters of employment discrimination, as well as employers who want to comply with the law or who face allegations of illegal discrimination or harassment.

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