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Discipline and termination

State procedures Are there state-specific laws on the procedures employers must follow with regard to discipline and grievance procedures? Generally, Massachusetts does not prescribe a discipline or grievance process for all employers. However, Massachusetts has adopted the Uniform Arbitration Act, which is designed to enforce arbitration agreements and proscribe procedures for arbitration pursuant to collective bargaining contracts (M.G.L. Ch. 150C §§ 1 et seq.). The statute controls the process for obtaining an order compelling arbitration to enforce the collective bargaining agreement. It does not set forth procedures for the grievance process itself, only procedures for arbitration when those provisions are absent from the collective bargaining agreement (M.G.L. Ch. 150c § 4). There are also minimal procedural standards for grievances that go before the labor relations board (M.G.L. Ch. 150A § 5; M.G.L. Ch. 150A § 9a (specific to nurses)).    

There are also statutes which control the grievance and discipline process for civil servants and other public employees (M.G.L. Ch. 31 §§ 1 et seq.; M.G.L. Ch. 30 § 53; and M.G.L. Ch. 150E §§ 1 et seq.). In addition, there are state-specific laws with respect to grievance and discipline of teachers in public schools (M.G.L. Ch. 71 § 42).

At-will or notice At-will status and/or notice period? Massachusetts has adopted the at-will employment doctrine for individual employees who are not subject to an employment agreement. The employee may be terminated with or without cause, provided that the termination violates no law or other contractual arrangement.  

What restrictions apply to the above? Courts have begun to employ common law contract and tort theories to issues surrounding the employment relationship. Further, the legislature continues to create increased protections for employees. Therefore, while the at-will doctrine is still applicable, employers should be extra vigilant in making sure that the termination does not violate an express or implied contractual right or any state or federal law.

Often, employee’s counsel may argue that the at-will doctrine was modified by an oral promise at the time of hire or later during employment (Carnig v. Carr, 46 N.E. 117 (Mass. 1897) and Boothby v. Texon, Inc., 608 N.E.2d 1028 (Mass. 1993)). In addition, arguments may be made that the at-will relationship was altered by employment policies or practices (Salvas v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 893 N.E.2d 1187 (Mass. 2008)). Specifically, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that personnel handbooks may create a contract (Jackson v. Action for Boston Community Development, Inc.,525 N.E.2d 411 (Mass. 1988) and O’Brien v. New England Tel. & Tel. Co., 664 N.E.2d 843 (Mass. 1996)). 

Final paychecks Are there state-specific rules on when final paychecks are due after termination? Yes—under Massachusetts General Law Ch. 149, § 148, “any employee leaving his employment shall be paid in full on the following regular pay day, and, in the absence of a regular pay day, on the following Saturday.” If, however, an employee is discharged by the employer, he or she “shall be paid in full on the day of his discharge” or, if the employer is in Boston, “as soon as the laws requiring pay rolls, bills, and accounts to be certified” are complied with (Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 149, § 148).