About Harassment in the Workplace

Employees are entitled to a workplace free of harassment. Learn about unlawful harassment in the workplace, including harassment based on protected class and sexual harassment, and how your rights are enforced by the MCAD.

Harassment Based on Protected Class

The Law

Chapter 151B prohibits workplace harassment on the basis of actual or perceived membership in a protected class, or the association with others who are members of a protected class. There are two main categories of harassment based on protected class: "quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile work environment" harassment. An employee may suffer one or both types of harassment simultaneously, depending on the circumstances. 

Quid Pro Quo Harassment 

Quid Pro Quo harassment can occur when an employer conditions an employee’s continued employment or receipt of workplace benefits, promotions, assignments, or opportunities on their willingness to mute or change behaviors or characteristics tied to the employee’s actual or perceived, membership of a protected class. 

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

Hostile work environment harassment occurs when conduct is objectively and subjectively offensive and interferes with an employee’s work performance by creating a workplace that is intimidating, hostile, humiliating, and/or offensive based on the actual, perceived, or associational membership of a protected class.  


Sexual Harassment

The Law

Chapter 151B explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. There are two main categories of sexual harassment: "quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile work environment" harassment. An employee may suffer one or both types of harassment simultaneously, depending on the circumstances. 

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid Pro Quo harassment occurs when an employee is asked to tolerate sexual conduct, up to and including engaging in sexual acts, as a condition of employment, to avoid adverse employment actions, or to enjoy workplace benefits and opportunities.  

Hostile Work Environment

Hostile work environment harassment occurs when sexual conduct is objectively and subjectively offensive and interferes with an employee’s work performance by creating a workplace that is intimidating, hostile, humiliating, and/or sexually offensive.  

Employer Responsibilities

An employer is liable for the sexual harassment of employees by managers and persons with supervisory authority, regardless of whether the employer knows of the conduct. An employer may also be liable for sexual harassment committed by persons without actual or apparent supervisory authority, such as co workers. An employer may also be liable for the sexual harassment of its employees by certain non-employees, such as customers, patients, clients, independent contractors or other acquaintances. 

Sexual Harassment Policies

Massachusetts law requires employers with six or more employees to adopt a written policy against sexual harassment. The employer's policy must include notice to employees that sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful and that it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint of sexual harassment. The policy should also assert the employer's commitment to investigate any complaint of sexual harassment. The Commission has prepared a Model Sexual Harassment Policy and a Sexual Harassment Poster

Sexual Harassment Training and Education

Massachusetts law encourages employers to conduct education and training programs on sexual harassment for all employees on a regular basis. Learn more about the MCAD's "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace" Trainings.

Additional Resources

Contact   for About Harassment in the Workplace

Fax

MCAD Boston (617) 994-6024
MCAD Springfield (413) 784-1056
MCAD Worcester (508) 755-3861

Address

MCAD Boston
1 Ashburton Place, Suite 601, Boston, MA 02108
MCAD Springfield
436 Dwight Street, Room 220, Springfield, MA 01103
MCAD Worcester
18 Chestnut Street, Room 520, Worcester, MA 01608
Last updated: May 31, 2024

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