Employment Discrimination and Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of gender discrimination and it is illegal. In general, there are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo (for example, demanding a sexual favor in exchange for an employment benefit) and hostile work environment (for example, sexually charged remarks in the workplace).
In Massachusetts, sexual harassment means sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
If you have suffered sexual harassment at work, including sexual innuendo or sexually-charged, demeaning or embarrassing comments, from co-workers, supervisors, managers or others, contact our office immediately to consult with a knowledgeable attorney regarding your situation. There are strict time limits within which you must file your claim in order to protect your rights.
- An employee’s submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions; or
- The sexual advances, requests or conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the employee's work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment.
Employment Discrimination Law
Workplace discrimination can be blatant and obvious (for example, racist, ageist or sexist comments or pictures) or more subtle and indirect (for example, different treatment than a similarly situated co-worker who is not a member of the protected class).
Sometimes an employer’s bias or stereotyping is not conscious, but may still be illegal. A neutral rule or policy that seems fair on its face, but has a disproportionately negative impact on a particular group of employees is a form of discrimination.
Discrimination Based on Sex
Discrimination against employees based on their sex or gender, gender identity (including transgender individuals), sexual orientation and pregnancy status is prohibited. Employers can't subject an employee to different terms, conditions or privileges of employment or administer adverse action because of the employee’s sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy.
Creating or permitting a hostile work environment is a type of adverse employment action. Pregnant women have certain rights regarding leaves of absence for childbirth and medical conditions related to pregnancy.
Discrimination Based on Age
Under Massachusetts law, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, to discharge from employment or to otherwise discriminate against an individual in terms of compensation or other aspects of the job because of that individual’s age. Under federal law, an individual who is aged 40 years or older is similarly protected against age discrimination.
Age discrimination may be demonstrated by direct evidence, such as offensive and ageist remarks. However, an employer may also violate the law if the age of an employee was the reason or one of the reasons, behind an adverse action taken against the employee (for example, a layoff, failure to promote or payment of lower wages).
If you were terminated and replaced because of your age, your replacement does not have to be under the age of 40 in order for you to have a valid claim.
Discrimination Based on Race
State and federal law prohibit discrimination in the workplace based upon race, color, national origin (the country where an employee was born) or ancestry (the country where his or her ancestors are from).
This discrimination may take the form of offensive remarks or conduct (such as racial epithets or pranks) that create a hostile work environment. Oftentimes, however, the employer’s bias must be proven by indirect evidence that the real reason behind the employer’s decision was discriminatory.
Discrimination Based on Handicap or Disability
Employers may not fire or issue other adverse action against a disabled or handicapped employee because of his or her disability or handicap as long as the employee is qualified under the law. A “qualified handicapped person” is a handicapped person who is able to perform the essential functions of the particular job with reasonable accommodation to his or her handicap.
Under Massachusetts law, the term “handicap” means a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of having such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment. The phrase “major life activities” includes, but is not limited to performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, breathing, hearing, speaking, learning and working.
Discrimination Based on Religion
Employers should not treat employees less favorably because of their creed or religion. Religious discrimination may take the form of verbal harassment related to one’s religion. Such discrimination may also take the form of a denial of a request for reasonable accommodation.
Employers should not impose on an employee any term or condition of employment which would require the employee to violate his or her religion (for example, by requiring the employee to work on a day designated by his or her religion as a Sabbath or a holy day after giving 10 days’ notice to the employer).
In other words, employers must make reasonable accommodation to the religious needs of employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. The employee has the burden to show that the particular religious belief is “sincerely held” but the employer has the burden to prove that accommodation of such a belief would pose an undue hardship.
If you have suffered discrimination at work, including from co-workers, supervisors, managers or others, contact our office immediately to consult with our knowledgeable attorney regarding your situation. There are strict time limits within which you must file your claim in order to protect your rights. You may be entitled to recover lost wages, damages for emotional distress and, in certain cases, punitive damages.
Other Employment Law Issues
We assist clients with the following employment issues:
- Wrongful termination (in violation of public policy)
- Unemployment benefits
- Nonpayment of wages
- Overtime compensation
- Employment contracts
- Drafting or review of severance agreements