Massachusetts’ At-Will Employment Law

Massachusetts is one of many states that have an at-will employment law. At-will employment is based on the concept that parties are free to work on whatever terms they agree to. In an at-will relationship each party, employer and employee, are free to terminate the employment relationship “at will,” meaning whenever they desire, whatever the reason, even for no reason, even if deemed arbitrary. Our employment attorneys are experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of at-will employment law and are here to help you.

But an employer may not terminate even an at-will employee for some reasons. A wrongful termination can expose the employer to significant civil liability. An employment attorney can ensure that the employment arrangement is, in fact, at will and guide an employer’s termination decisions, protecting the business from a wrongful termination lawsuit.

No employee wants to be employed against his will. So, in the absence of an employment contract, the employee wants the ability to quit if and when he chooses. The same goes for a typical employer: the employer doesn’t want to employ, or keep employing, an individual whom he would rather not employ. So, such an arrangement is mutual: either party has the right to terminate the employment relationship at will—at any time, with or without notice. This means just as an employee can walk off the job any time she chooses, she can be terminated immediately, without any advance notice, by her employer, with or without cause.

This is a vital right to an employer who wants to avoid a claim for wrongful termination. The guidance of an employment attorney is a key element in preventing such claims. An employment attorney can draft an employment policy manual, for instance, which clearly states that the nature of the employment is at-will.

An employment attorney knows that as with any law, of course, there are exceptions to arbitrary termination. One is the existence of a contract that prescribes the circumstances of termination. A union contract is the most typical example of this. Most union contracts severely restrict an outright termination, and then only for cause and usually after some sort of hearing process.

Another exception to the right of at-will termination is when the termination violates the public policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Generally speaking, an employer is prohibited from an at-will termination when an employee is exercising a right or duty prescribed by law. An example of this involves a whistleblower who reports illegal conduct by the employer. Another major example is anti-discrimination laws prohibiting termination on account of the employee’s race, gender, age, religion, national origin, physical disability, or sexual orientation.

Liability for wrongful discharge can be crippling to an employer. Whether you are starting a new business or expanding an existing one, we will work with you to protect you against wrongful discharge situations and to address any other employment considerations facing your business.

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