By Rodman Employment Law
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed a lower court decision and added teeth to the state’s Personnel Records Law. In addition to clarifying confusing legal precedent, this ruling provides employees a cause of action against their employer for retaliation under the Personnel Records Law. Do you have questions about the Personnel Records Law? If so, an experienced employment law attorney like those at Rodman Employment Law are here to help. Call the office or contact us today to schedule a consultation.
What is the Massachusetts Personnel Records Law?
The Massachusetts Personnel Records Law provides employees with certain rights regarding their personnel records and imposes affirmative obligations on the part of the employer. Specifically, this law gives employees the right to review their personnel file, mandates that employers inform employees of any negative information placed in their file if that information may be used in a negative way that could affect their employment and gives employees the right to rebut any negative information that has been placed in their personnel file.
However, prior to this case, the consequences of not turning over a complete file were minimal, and not much beyond receiving a form letter from the state Attorney General’s Office and incurring a small fine between $500 and $2,500 for the violation. After this case, employees now have the right to sue for retaliation if certain conditions are met.
At Will Employment
Like most states, Massachusetts is an “at will” employment state. This means that an employee can quit their job for any reason and an employer can terminate a worker for any reason, with certain exceptions. Common exceptions to at will employment when an employer is not allowed to fire an employee include the following:
- Implied contracts,
- Implied covenants of good faith,
- Discrimination based on a protected trait,
- Reporting or complaining about violations of law,
- Participating in an investigation of the employer, and
- Other public policy reasons.
This case raised the issue of whether an employer is allowed to terminate an employee for engaging in actions permitted under a state law, or if it falls under one of the at will employment exceptions.
Facts of the Case
In Terence Meehan v. Medical Information Technology, Inc., the plaintiff in the case submitted a rebuttal to a performance improvement plan that was put into his personnel file. His employer terminated him soon after and stipulated in lower court proceedings that the reason for the firing was the submission of the personnel file rebuttal. The employee claimed that it was their right under the Massachusetts Personnel Records Law to submit a rebuttal, which raised a novel legal question: does firing someone for submitting a rebuttal under this law qualifies as a public policy exception to at will employment?
The lower courts ruled that the right to submit a rebuttal under the Massachusetts Personnel Records Law was an internal matter and therefore not important for the purposes of at will employment. However, the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed and overturned the lower court’s ruling. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Personnel Records Law established an important right of rebuttal, and therefore it would be a violation of public policy if an employer was allowed to fire an employee for acting within their rights. As such, an employee is allowed to file a retaliation claim against an employer if they are fired because they submit a rebuttal to negative information in their personnel file.
Employees now have the right to sue for retaliation if they are fired for filing a rebuttal, but the ruling does not prevent employers from terminating at will employment workers for other legitimate reasons, such as poor performance or lack of attendance at work. If you are interested in learning more about how this ruling may impact your employment-related case, talk to our office today.
Call or Contact Rodman Employment Law Now
If you have questions about how the Meehan decision applies to you, call or contact Rodman Employment Law today to schedule a consultation.