Massachusetts is an at-will employment commonwealth. At-will employment generally means that the employer can terminate employment for any reason or none at all. At-will employment also means that the employer need not give notice of termination.
There are, however, exceptions to the at-will employment. Most notably, public sector jobs are not at will, and unionized jobs are protected under collective bargaining agreements. The employment contracts may also exempt employees from at-will employment.
There are still guidelines
Despite the broad parameters of at-will employment, employers still cannot dismiss workers for the following:
- For retaliatory or discriminatory reasons that violate Title VII
- For refusing to violate public policy
- For refusing to do something illegal
- For a breach of good faith, which means that employers cannot fire a worker to avoid paying retirement benefits
The employee will likely have grounds for a lawsuit if the employer uses any of the above reasons.
Arbitration agreements may have an impact
Employers who engage in mandatory arbitration agreements, which are still valid except in cases of harassment or assault in the workplace, may be impacted. According to the Fourth Circuit Court, mandatory arbitration provisions could affect whether the employee is at will. Signing such an agreement could switch the employee’s at-will agreement.
Those with questions about including a mandatory arbitration clause in a contract would be wise first to discuss the matter with an experienced employment law attorney. The attorney can also help avoid confusion between employer and employee regarding their at-will status.