Labor and Employment

Laws Against Employment Discrimination in Massachusetts

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Massachusetts employees are protected from workplace discrimination based on race, gender identity, and other characteristics.

Employees in Massachusetts are protected from workplace discrimination based on certain traits, such as religion or race. Congress and the Massachusetts legislature has decided that these traits, called protected characteristics, are not a fair basis for employment decisions—including who to hire, who to fire, and how much to pay employees.

Below, we explain your rights under the state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, including which employers must comply with the laws and which employees are protected. (For more on this topic, see our employment discrimination and harassment page.)

Federal Laws Banning Employment Discrimination

Federal laws—including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act—protect employees in all 50 states against discrimination based on:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex
  • pregnancy
  • national origin
  • age (applies only to employees who are 40 years of age or older)
  • genetic information, or
  • physical or mental disability.

These federal laws make it illegal for employers of a certain size to discriminate in all aspects of employment, including hiring, benefits, promotions, pay, discipline, and termination. You are protected from discrimination if you work for a private employer with at least 15 employees (or 20 employees, for age discrimination).

Government employees are protected from discrimination, too: All employees of the federal government are covered, and all employees of state and local governments are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. For other types of discrimination, state and local government employees are protected if they work for an agency with at least 15 employees.

Massachusetts Laws Banning Employment Discrimination

The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law applies to private employers with at least six employees. It also applies to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and all of its political subdivisions, commissions, boards, and departments. The law prohibits discrimination against employees and applicants based on:

  • age (40 or older only)
  • race or color
  • religion
  • disability
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions)
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • genetic information
  • military status or membership (including in the National Guard), or
  • status as a veteran.

Massachusetts law also provides that employers may not ask questions on applications regarding an applicant’s admission to a facility for those who are mentally ill, nor may an employer refuse to hire someone for failing to provide this information. Employers also may not ask about arrest records that did not lead to convictions and certain misdemeanor offenses. With some exceptions, Massachusetts prohibits employers from asking questions on an employment application about an applicant’s criminal record. And, beginning in July of 2018, employers may not ask about an applicant's pay history during the hiring process.

Agencies That Enforce Discrimination Laws

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. The EEOC website provides details on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal laws. See Laws Enforced by EEOC for details. See our article on how to file an EEOC claim or visit the EEOC’s website for more information.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination enforces the laws that prohibit job discrimination in the state. For more information about the law, including details about filing a complaint, visit the Commission’s website.

Finding an Employment Law Attorney in Massachusetts

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work, you should talk to an experienced Massachusetts employment lawyer. A lawyer can assess your situation, explain the laws that might apply, and evaluate the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also advise you on how to proceed, including filing a complaint or lawsuit, and what damages might be available if you win.

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