Massachusetts is an “employment-at-will” state. Therefore, an employer may generally terminate an employee at any time and for any reason or no reason at all.
Implied contracts. Despite the "at-will" nature of the employment relationship, an employee handbook may form the basis for an express or an implied contract.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that an employment contract may exist when an employee actually and reasonably believes that a handbook defines terms and conditions of employment that are mutually binding upon the employee and the employer (O'Brien v. New England Telephone & Telegraph, 664 N.E.2d 843 (1996)).
This means that, in Massachusetts, a handbook disclaimer alone may not be sufficient to rule out a finding of an implied employment contract, so employers need to carefully prepare a handbook.
Still, Massachusetts courts have declined to find that an implied contract existed when it can be shown that:
• The employer retained the right to unilaterally modify the handbook;
• The handbook provides that it is for "guidance" regarding the employer's policies;
• The employer and employee did not negotiate the terms of the handbook;
• The handbook contains no terms of employment;
• The employer did not call special attention to the handbook; and
• The employee did not sign or manifest his or her assent to the handbook or acknowledge understanding its terms (Buttrick v. Intercity Alarms, LLC, 2009 Mass. App. Div. 97 (2009)).
More information is available.
Good faith and fair dealing. The covenant of good faith and fair dealing is an implied obligation in all contracts. The covenant recognizes that parties to a contract must act in good faith toward each other.
This means that an ...