Massachusetts law about employment termination

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on firing employees or getting fired in Massachusetts.

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Massachusetts laws

MGL c.149, § 148 Payment of wages
In most circumstances, if you are fired you should be paid in full on your last day.

"any employee discharged from such employment shall be paid in full on the day of his discharge..."

MGL c.175, § 110G Continuation of health care benefits after involuntary layoff

MGL c.176J, § 9 Massachusetts “Mini-COBRA” law for continuation of health care benefits for businesses with 2-19 employees

Selected case law

Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC, 477 Mass. 456 (2017)
"The issue on appeal is whether a qualifying patient who has been terminated from her employment because she tested positive for marijuana as a result of her lawful medical use of marijuana has a civil remedy against her employer. We conclude that the plaintiff may seek a remedy through claims of handicap discrimination in violation of G. L. c. 151B, and therefore reverse the dismissal of the plaintiff's discrimination claims."

Brookline v. Alston, 487 Mass. 278 (2021)
"The Civil Service Commission, in the context of its analysis whether a tenured firefighter was fired without just cause in violation of basic merit principles, could consider evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct more typically addressed in the context of a claim under G. L. c. 151B."

Electronic Data Systems Corp. v. Attorney General & another, 454 Mass. 63 (2009)
"The Wage Act requires that an employer pay an employee for unused vacation time remaining at the time of the employee's involuntary discharge..."

Knous v. Broadridge Fin. Sols. Inc., 991 F.3d 344 (2021)
"[A] 'discharge from employment' under the Wage Act 'occurs upon the severance of the employment relationship,' not merely when an employer instructs an employee to stop performing work."

Lawless v. Steward Health Care System, LLC, 894 F.3d 9 (1st Cir. 2018)
"So viewed, the Wage Act establishes a mandatory obligation to pay an employee any accrued 'wages' by the day of her discharge. An employee who does not receive her due wages by that date--even an employee who is paid in full a day later--suffers a cognizable injury within the purview of the statute."

Meehan v. Medical Information Technology, Inc., 488 Mass. 730 (2021)
"Termination of an at-will employee simply for filing a rebuttal expressly authorized by G. L. c. 149, § 52C, constitutes a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy."

Mui v. Massachusetts Port Authority, 478 Mass. 710 (2018)
Payment for accrued, unused sick time does not count as "wages" under the Wage Act, G. L. c. 149, §§ 148, 150.

Reuter v. City of Methuen, 489 Mass. 465 (2022)
In a civil action in which the plaintiff, a custodian at a school, alleged that the defendant city violated the Wage Act, G. L. c. 149, § 148, in not paying her accrued vacation time on the day that the defendant terminated the plaintiff's employment, the judge erred in limiting damages to treble interest on the vacation pay not paid until three weeks after the termination, where the express language of G. L. c. 149, § 150, required trebling the amount of late-paid wages as liquidated damages, but there was no support in § 150 for an award of interest, and an award of interest was inconsistent with the purpose of the Wage Act.

Web sources

Can an employee be fired for no reason?, Archived from Boston Globe, 2005.

Although it seems almost impossible to believe, employers in Massachusetts, or in any other employee-at-will state, can fire any employee at any time for any reason — or even for no reason at all. An employer can terminate any employee, with or without notice.

Exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine, Robert S. Mantell, 2016.
"The at-will employment doctrine, that an employee can be terminated for any reason or for no reason, is a doctrine whose validity is dwarfed by its numerous exceptions." This article lists those exceptions with references to statutes and cases.

Worker’s guide to advance notice of closings and layoffs, U.S. Department of Labor.
“The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act helps ensure advance notice in cases of qualified plant closings and mass layoffs…This guide provides a brief overview of the WARN Act provisions and answers to frequently asked questions about employee rights.”

Print sources

Employee discharge and documentation, Lorman Education Services, 2008.

Hiring and firing in Massachusetts, by John F. Adkins, MCLE, c2007.

Human resource law from A to Z, NBI, 2019.

Human resource law: what you need to know now, NBI, 2017.

Labor and employment in Massachusetts, Jeffrey L. Hirsch, 2nd edition, LexisNexis, loose-leaf.
Chapter 18: Termination of Employment.

Practical tips for negotiating and settling an employment case, MCLE, 2009.

Representing a plaintiff in a wrongful termination case, 7th ed., MCLE, 2022.
1. Interviewing the client -- 2. Evaluating claims and damages -- 3. Anticipating employer defenses -- 4. Counseling the client on strategy options -- 5. Litigating the claim -- 6. Trying the case.

Wrongful termination and exceptions to employment at-will, MCLE, 2007.

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Last updated: January 3, 2023

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