We often receive calls from employees who feel they have been discriminated against or harassed at work.  In many cases, they believe they have been the victim of unfair treatment by a manager.  Sometimes, they assert that they have been treated differently than other employees.

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Most employees who are not members of unions are “at-will.”  This means that the employee can quit his job whenever he wants, and that the employer can terminate the employee’s job whenever it wants.  Employees in union shops are usually governed by collective bargaining agreements, which prohibit suspension or dismissal from employment unless the employer can show “just cause.” Some other employees such as tenured teachers may receive such “just cause” protection from statutes (laws) applicable to their positions.  A few employees such as senior managers or athletes might have job security provided by individual employment contracts.  Everyone else, the majority of employees in the United States, is at-will.

An at-will employee’s protection against discrimination or harassment in the workplace is mainly limited to state and federal laws which prohibit specific types of discrimination.  For example, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, §4 provides in part as follows:

 It shall be an unlawful practice:

            1. For an employer, by himself or his agent, because of the race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, which shall not include persons whose sexual orientation involves minor children as the sex object, genetic information, or ancestry of any individual to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification.

Discrimination in employment must be based on one of the protected categories ― race, sex, etc.  Other statutes prohibit discrimination based on age.  Sexual harassment is prohibited by law as a form of sex discrimination.

Unfortunately, if you are an at-will employee who has been “discriminated” against because your boss is being unfair or is otherwise biased against you, and your boss’s motivation is not based on one of the protected categories ― your age, race, sex, etc. ― you may have no legal recourse.  You may be the victim of an obnoxious, ignorant boss, but not of “discrimination” as defined in the law. We have handled hundreds of employment discrimination cases, and are well-qualified to help determine whether you have legal recourse.

by Richard E. Burke, Esq.