Attorney Lucas Newbill practices civil rights and employment law out of Brookline, Massachusetts, serving the Greater Boston region in cases that include accommodation (religious, disability and pregnancy), discrimination, sexual harassment, contracts, wage theft, free speech, defamation, religious freedom, equal protection and DCF related matters.
Although it is true that an employer can fire an employee for nearly any reason, that reason must be a legal one. There are laws in place that protect employees from being fired or even disciplined because of race, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy (including lactation or the need to express breast milk), sexual orientation or disability (which can include smoking medical marijuana). These are just a few of the instances of illegal reasons for termination or discipline. In addition, government employees may be protected from being fired or disciplined for speaking their mind.
There are laws in place prohibiting unwanted sexual advances or behavior in the work environment that interfere with one’s work performance, or are made in exchange for favorable treatment. Even if one reciprocates, they may be protected if they did so out of fear. These laws may also apply to behavior exhibited outside of the work environment. The employer may be held liable regardless of knowledge when the wrongdoer is one with supervisory authority. Massachusetts law requires employers with six or more employees to adopt a written policy against sexual harassment.
Noncompetition and Severance Agreements
A noncompetition agreement, or “non-compete,” is one in which an employee agrees that they will be limited in how they can compete with the employer after the relationship with the employer ends. A severance agreement is one signed at the end of employment in which the employee agrees to accept money in exchange for agreeing not to sue his or her employer. Neither should be signed by an employer or an employee without consultation with a lawyer as significant consequences may be attached.
The government generally cannot punish a person for speaking their mind, which is protected by the First Amendment. This means a federal, state, or municipal employee that is fired for something he or she said, or even posted online, may be entitled to compensation. Public schools are subject to similar restrictions. Student discipline for something the child said may be in violation the First Amendment. A criminal or civil case based on a defendant’s speech may also be avoided.
Defamation / Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Defamation occurs when another person says or writes something false and harmful about another. The victim may be entitled to compensation. Even if what is written or spoken is true, the victim may still be entitled to compensation if they suffered emotional distress as a result. Because speech is involved, the First Amendment is often of concern in these cases.
Both public and private employers generally cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. There are certain exceptions: an employer may discriminate when necessary to avoid a significant burden on the business or if the nature of the business is such that discrimination is necessary. The state, whether as employer or lawmaker, may not impinge upon a person’s religious freedom. Laws that impact the free exercise of religion may be unconstitutional.
The Fourteenth Amendment protects against the unequal treatment of people by the government. Those who are treated differently because of their race, national origin, or religion have the strongest of cases.
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