Frequently Asked Questions

Employment Discrimination

Q. What are my rights as an employee if I feel that I have been treated unfairly at work?

A. Your rights as an employee are determined by contract and by law. Most employees are so-called “at-will,” meaning that you are free to leave your employment at anytime and your employer is free to terminate or make changes to your employment at any time, as long as such changes are effective prospectively (i.e. in the future) only. Some employees, usually union-members, are employed under a contract that sets specific obligations on the employee and employer in terms of pay, termination rights, and other changes to the employment relationship. It is important to understand whether you are employed at-will or under a contract. “At-will” status is the norm and is not changed by an offer letter or personnel policy that describes your compensation, duties, and other employment terms, although such documents may be important in determining whether an employment action occurred due to an unlawful reason.
Regardless of whether you are an at-will or a contract employee, the law prohibits employers from treating you differently due to your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, and certain other characteristics. This is what is known as a protected “status.” The law also provides protection to employees for their wages and certain other workplace benefits. It is equally illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for raising a complaint, either internally or publicly, about discriminatory treatment.

Q. How do I know if I have been treated illegally?

A. First of all, it is important to realize that it is not illegal for an employer to be mean, inconsiderate, or illogical in the treatment of its employees. For example, if a company fires an employee without any good reason, or under a false belief that the employee failed to perform well, that is not illegal by itself. Employers are allowed to make bad decisions.
However, an employer cannot fire an employee, or discipline or otherwise treat an employee unfavorably, because of that person’s protected status. Of course, employers will not typically admit that an employment decision was made due to a person’s age, race, religion, or other protected status. Employers cannot, however, use a false reason to treat a person differently because of his or her status. In other words, if an employer wanted to fire a woman because of her gender, that employer could not claim the woman was not performing well, even if that is true, if the real reason for firing her is because she is a woman.

Q. What are some examples of unlawful discrimination?

A. It can be difficult to determine whether you have been treated differently because of a legal or illegal reason. That is because uncovering discrimination often depends on a person’s state of mind. The law addresses this problem in several ways. First, you need to determine whether you have a protected status. Age, gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability are the main protected statuses. Second, you need to determine whether you have been treated unfairly in a significant way. Not getting interesting work assignments is probably not significant, but having your hours reduced significantly, or being transferred to an unfavorable geographic location, probably is. Third, you need to determine whether the unfavorable treatment was due to your protected status. It is important to consult a lawyer for this determination, as it involves complex issues of fact and law.
Civil Service Commission Appeals

Q. What is the Civil Service Commission?

A. The Civil Service Commission is a quasi-judicial agency that hears and decides appeals of public employees under the protection of civil service laws by ensuring that employment decisions are based on the relative ability, knowledge and skills of the public employee, and to ensure that all individuals receive fair and impartial treatment.

Q. What employees are covered under the civil service laws?

A. Many public employees are covered under the civil service law, Chapter 31 of Massachusetts General Laws. Generally, these employees include those in the Labor Service of the state or municipalities, and public safety employees. Some public safety departments are not included under the civil service law, and many higher-level employees, such as police and fire chiefs, are not included even when the department as a whole is.

Q. How are appointments made to civil service positions?

A. Civil service appointments are generally made by appointing authorities who select qualified applicants who have taken a competitive examination or have completed a registration process. The Civil Service Unit within the Human Resources Division is responsible for overseeing the administration of the Massachusetts merit system. M.G.L. c. 31 provides strict rules regarding the creation and use of eligibility lists of candidates for open civil service positions.

Q. What types of cases does the Civil Service Commission hear?

A. The Civil Service Commission hears three broad types of cases: bypass appeals, disciplinary appeals, and classification appeals. This office does not work with classification appeals. Many appeals do not fit neatly in one of these categories, but are still heard by the Civil Service Commission if the appeal raises a valid claim of a violation of Chapter 31.

Q. How can I file an appeal to the Civil Service Commission?

A. The website for the Commission provides helpful guidance on the appeal process. You should visit “how to file an appeal” for further information.

Q. Are there time limits for filing an appeal?

A. Yes. It is very important that you file an appeal to the Civil Service Commission within the required time period.
  • Bypass appeals – filed sixty (60) days from notice of bypass
  • Disciplinary appeals – ten (10) days after the disciplinary action was taken
The limitations period for filing an appeal can also depend on when the appellant received notice of the challenged action. For example, the Commission has allowed appeals to proceed that were filed after the limitations period ended if the appellant can show that he did not know, and had no reasonable way to know, of the challenged action within the limitations period.