Employment Law Guides

Employment law covers a wide range of workplace regulations that ensure employees are treated fairly. These laws are based on federal and state constitutions, legislation and court opinions.

While sometimes used interchangeably, the terms labor law and employment law differ in that labor law covers matters between unions and employers and employment law addresses individual employee issues. These guides will help you understand and navigate the complexities of employment law.

Federal and state employment laws prohibit discrimination in hiring, promotion, pay, benefits, job-related training or any other aspect of work life. It is illegal for an employer to treat a worker or applicant unfairly because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment is also illegal, but it includes not only sexual harassment, but also “petty teasing” and other offensive behavior that makes the workplace unwelcome. Employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. The EEOC will investigate the complaint and, if it finds that discrimination occurred, it may try to settle the case with the employer or issue a right to sue letter, which lets employees proceed with their own lawsuit.

Massachusetts law includes a provision for what is known as disparate impact discrimination. This is where a policy or practice affects a protected group more negatively than others, but it’s not intentionally discriminatory. For example, imposing a heavy lifting requirement on workers that disproportionately excludes women or people with certain disabilities is not allowed.
Employment Contracts

Often referred to as an employment agreement, employment contracts are written legal documents that spell out binding terms of an employer-employee relationship. Sometimes these are formal contracts both parties sign, and at other times they are implied by verbal statements or through policies established in the workplace.

Many employee contracts include specific information about benefits, including how pay is determined and when a worker is entitled to bonus money. Severance pay and other termination provisions are also spelled out. Other perks might be included in an employee contract, such as medical coverage and performance incentives.

An employee contract might also list the duration of employment, though most companies employ employees at will and can fire them for any reason that’s not illegal. Some contracts might also contain a probationary period and training guidelines for new hires. Confidentiality and noncompete agreements are also common in some contracts. These prevent employees from working for a competitor for a specified time after leaving your company.
Wrongful Termination

The term “wrongful termination” describes a firing that violates state or federal employment law. This includes terminations based on discrimination or in retaliation for exercising whistleblower protections. It may also involve violations of employment contracts.

Wrongful termination claims often center around a protected class, such as race/color, age, disability, gender, national origin/ethnicity, religion/creed, pregnancy, or sexual orientation. Other common wrongful termination claims are based on a violation of the terms of an employment contract or company policy.

For example, although New York is an “at will” state, employees who sign contracts usually stipulate that they cannot be fired without cause. Those who are terminated in violation of the contract may be able to file a wrongful termination suit for compensation, such as back pay or front pay. The best way to determine if you have grounds for a wrongful termination claim is to review your specific case with an experienced employment lawyer. Documentation of any events surrounding your firing and a full copy of your employment contract are important pieces to bring to the attorney’s attention.
Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful and can be perpetrated by supervisors or coworkers. It is based on an individual’s gender and may involve verbal or physical conduct.

For example, a police sergeant makes unwelcome comments to a female constable or over-scrutinizes her work performance. Even if she does not express objection, this can be considered harassment if the conduct is unwanted or affects her professional image. It can also be based on an individual’s conformance or non-conformance to sex-based stereotypes.

Hostile environment sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct that interferes with a person’s job performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. It can occur by supervisors, coworkers and non-supervisory personnel or by customers or independent contractors.

You can file a complaint at the local, state or federal level. However, you should talk to an attorney first. Your lawyer can explain the law and what steps you should take to protect your rights.Employment law guides

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