Published On: Tue, Jul 19th, 2016

Workers’ Rights in Massachusetts: Workplace Discrimination & Harassment

This is the final post in the Workers’ Rights blog series, which has covered workplace safety, fair wages, workplace benefits, workers’ compensation, and workplace discrimination and harassment in Massachusetts.

In 2015, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) received more than 2,400 complaints about discrimination at work, making up 80 percent of all of the complaints they received that year.

No matter where you work, you’re entitled to a workplace that’s free of discrimination and harassment. MCAD provides information on these rights and explains how to file a complaint if your rights are violated.


MCAD defines discrimination in the workplace as something your employer does that hurts you based on your membership to a certain group, like an age range, race, or gender. It’s illegal for employers in the state with six or more employees to discriminate against current or prospective employees based on:

Employers can’t take discriminatory actions against you based on your membership in a protected class, such as:

  • Fire you
  • Refuse to promote you
  • Give you a poor evaluation
  • Harass you
  • Deny you accommodations for a disability

There are also laws for what questions employers may and may not ask you about a group you are part of.

Sexual Harassment

In Massachusetts, you have the right to work without being sexually harassed. MCAD defines two types of sexual harassment in the workplace, which may happen separately or at the same time.

  • Quid Pro Quo Harassment — When an employer or another employee says or implies that you need to accept their sexual advances to keep your job or get a promotion, it’s considered quid pro quo harassment.
  • Hostile Work Environment Harassment — If you feel intimidated or humiliated at work because of sexual jokes or comments, inappropriate touching, or requests for sexual advances or favors, you may be experiencing hostile work environment harassment.

How to File a Complaint

If you believe you’ve been discriminated against or sexually harassed at work, you can file a discrimination complaint with MCAD. Your employer can’t take any action against you for filing, no matter what the outcome is.

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry. Staff members at MCAD will provide you information on the complaint process:

  • Visit an MCAD Office — MCAD recommends that you file your complaint in person by visiting one of their four locations in Boston, Springfield, Worcester, or New Bedford. In some cases, you may be able to file a complaint by mail or over the phone if you can’t come to an office. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been discriminated against or not, you can meet with an MCAD staff member who can provide you information.
  • Take Part in an Intake Interview — When you file your complaint, you’ll have a private consultation, called an intake interview, to start the process.
  • Start an Investigation — Once you have an intake interview, an investigator will be assigned your case and may contact you for additional information.
  • Decide if There Is Probable Cause — After the investigation is complete, MCAD will decide if there is probable cause to move forward, possibly with a settlement or public hearing.

Discrimination and sexual harassment are serious issues that can make your daily life painful and upsetting. If you think your rights are being violated at work, contact MCAD to learn more about your options.

Do you know someone who has been discriminated against or sexually harassed at work? Share this post with them so they know what their rights are.

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