Can An Employee be Terminated Without Notice in Massachusetts?

Can An Employee Be Terminated Without Notice?                                    

Here’s the answer:  There is a general rule, but there are so many exceptions to it that you should contact a lawyer about your rights.  You may have a claim for wrongful termination.  The general rule is as follows: in Massachusetts, non-union employees without a contract are employees at will.  Unless there is an exception  (and there are many – read below), employees can be terminated without notice, or let go for any reason at all.  Generally speaking, without a contract, and unless another document such as an employee handbook provides otherwise, an employee is not entitled to notice.  An employee who is terminated without notice (such as late on a Friday afternoon) is entitled to his or her last paycheck on that day – not the next pay period – and any earned but unpaid vacation.  Without a contract there is no legal right to severance pay. Certain employees may have leverage for severance pay (read this post for a description).

Here’s the question: Can an employee be terminated without notice?  Is the employee entitled to severance pay or any additional type of pay upon termination? Can an employee be terminated without notice where the employer states that the employee is unreliable or not a good performer or for other reasons?

An Employee Terminated Without Notice May Have Legal Protections

Now here’s the big  “however.”  When employees are terminated without notice, there can be an unstated reason for the firing.   In other words, although the company may be saying that the employee is unreliable or a bad performer,  it is important to dig deeper.  A lawyer will look at recent events at the company to find out if is another reason for the termination.

Here are just some of the issues to be considered.  If an employee has been terminated without notice in Massachusetts, there may be other legal protections:

(1) Is there an employee handbook that has a progressive discipline policy (warnings, etc.) that may give the employee additional rights?

(2) Did the employee recently disclose a disability and/or seek an accommodation for a disability? Is the employee is being fired because the company doesn’t want to provide the employee with an accommodation?

(3) Did the employee recently complain about sexual or racial harassment?  Is the employee is being fired in retaliation?

(4) Has the company recently let go a number of older workers?  Is this employee is the latest in a line of older workers to be terminated?

(5) Did the employee complain about not receiving overtime pay? Is company firing the employee  in retaliation?

(6) Is there any issue concerning meal breaks, or non-payment of wages?

(7) Are there any grounds for seeking severance pay?

(8) Has the worker been terminated shortly before commissions are due or other benefits are expected to vest? Is the company is firing the worker in order to save money;

(9) has the worker been misclassified as an independent contractor (and given a 1099)?

(10) Is there any other basis for a  claim for retaliation?

(11) Does the employee have rights under the plant closing law?

In summary, even though an individual is an employee at will, there may be other rights at issue that need to be explored.   It is important to look at recent events and an employee’s work history.  The company’s decision to terminate without notice could be based on other factors.  Please know that there are short time frames for filing discrimination, retaliation and/or wage and hour claims and Massachusetts employees should review the facts concerning their particular situation with an employment attorney.

Contact Us About Being Terminated Without Notice – We’re friendly!

Call us, we’re friendly!  Please call the  Law Office of Maura Greene, LLC, Six Beacon St., Suite 205, Boston, MA 02108, at 617-936-1580 or email at [email protected] Maura Greene has been named a Super Lawyer in employment in 2014 and 2013. The Boston Globe has named her as a top-rated attorney.