Employment discrimination is a large area of employment law that encompasses discrimination against employees and job applicants based on their race, color, religion, creed, military duty,  national origin, ancestry, sex (gender), sexual orientation, age, handicap status, and genetic information (note that this list is not necessarily comprehensive). Illegal discrimination includes harassment that creates an intimidating, offensive, abusive or hostile work environment for employees, in violation of Massachusetts and Federal employment discrimination laws.

Discrimination occurs when employers (or unions or employment agencies) illegally single out employees or job applicants on the basis of their characteristics. Anti-discrimination laws and related regulations that deal with employment are enforced at the Federal level by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, M.G.L. c.151B, (the Act), as well as other statutes. The Act’s protections apply when an employer has 6 or more employees. The Massachusetts legislature has specifically added a section to c.151B that outlaws sexual harassment. Note that the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act covers discrimination based on sexual orientation, whereas there is no analogous federal protection.

According to the EEOC, employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants in any aspect of employment, including the following.

  • Hiring and firing
  • Benefits and perks
  • Testing
  • Retirement plans
  • Disability leave
  • Use of company facilities
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Transfers, promotions, layoffs or recalls
  • Recruitment and job advertisements
  • Compensation, assignment or classification

If employers adversely single out employees for reasons that aren’t specifically prohibited by discrimination laws or related regulations, then employees are not protected from those types of employment discrimination. For example, if a boss fires an employee solely because of a general personality conflict that interferes with the working relationship, then it’s not likely to be employment discrimination. That’s because there is no specific “personality conflict” provision that makes it illegal under Massachusetts or Federal discrimination laws. But, if a boss fires an employee solely because the employee turned 40 years old, then it is likely be employment discrimination under Federal law. Age discrimination against employees who are 40 years old or more is outlawed by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.