Employer Liability: Massachusetts
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Author: Susan Borowski
- For most private sector employers, liability for unfair labor practices is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Massachusetts State Labor Relations Law pertains to those employees who do not fall under the NLRA, and the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations is the government agency that investigates and adjudicates disputes under the state law. See Unfair Labor Practices.
- Employers may be liable for certain penalties and, in some cases, prison time for certain unfair labor practices. See Unfair Labor Practices.
- Employers may be liable for certain penalties and in some cases prison time for engaging in certain activities during a strike. See Unlawful Conduct During a Strike.
- Employers may be liable for certain penalties and in some cases prison time for interfering with agency personnel. See Interfering with Agency Personnel.
- Violations of provisions of the State Labor Relations Law that do not set forth certain penalties are punishable by lesser fines. See Penalties Under the State Labor Relations Law.
- Employers generally are not liable for unlawful actions of officers or agents unless such acts were known and approved. See Liability for Officers, Agents.
Unfair Labor Practices
For most Massachusetts employers in the private sector, liability for unfair labor practices falls under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The State Labor Relations Law pertains to those employers that do not fall under the NLRA.
The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations decides disputes involving employers and employees who are not subject to the National Labor Relations Board.
Under the State Labor Relations Law, employers face a penalty of up to $3,000 or imprisonment in jail of up to one year, or both, for the following acts:
- Coercing an individual to enter into an agreement or sign a contract to waive rights to join a union as a condition of employment; or
- Agreeing to pay money or something of value to discourage or interfere with employees' exercise of their union rights.
Unlawful Conduct During a Strike
Employers face a penalty of up to $2,000 for the following acts:
- Advertising for employees during a strike, lockout or other labor dispute without explicitly mentioning in large type that a labor dispute exists;
- Failing to notify an employment agency by registered mail that a labor dispute exists, if using an agency to hire replacement employees during a strike;
- Hiring professional strikebreakers to replace striking employees; and
- Hiring someone to interfere with peaceful picketing or the exercise of any employee labor rights.
Employers face a penalty of up to $2,000 and imprisonment of up to six months, or both, for employing police or armed guards during a strike (there is an exception for security personnel who are regularly employed). See +ALM GL ch. 149, § 23A.
Interfering with Agency Personnel
Any person who willfully resists, prevents, impedes or interferes with any member of the Department of Labor Relations or any of its agents in the performance of duties is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to one year, or both. See +ALM GL ch. 150A, § 8.
Penalties Under the State Labor Relations Law
Violations of any provision of the State Labor Relations Law (Chapter 149) where no other specific penalty is listed are punishable by a fine of up to $500. See +ALM GL ch. 149, § 180.
Liability for Officers, Agents
Organizations are not responsible or liable for the unlawful acts of individual officers, members or agents of the organization except upon clear proof that the officer or agent had authorization for the illegal acts, or that the unlawful acts were ratified after they became known to the organization. See +ALM GL ch. 149, § 20B.
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