Paul Peter Nicolai
MA SUPREME COURT SAYS FIRING OVER PERSONNEL FILE REBUTTAL IS UNLAWFUL
Updated: Mar 28, 2022
An at-will employee fired when he filed a rebuttal letter for inclusion in his personnel file after being placed on a performance improvement plan could bring a wrongful discharge claim, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled, reversing a lower court decision.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. . .The state Personnel Records Act says that employees who disagree with any information placed in their personnel records may submit a written statement explaining their position.
The lower court said this statutory right was not a public policy exception to the at-will doctrine because it was not an important enough public policy. The supreme court said that when addressing the discharge of an employee for the exercise of an employment right defined by statute, courts are not allowed to decide whether the right is important. In enacting the statutory employment right, the Legislature concluded the right is a matter of public significance. The Court also said that rebuttals often involve disputed and contentious subject matter in which emotions run high. It said that no matter how intemperate or contentious an employee’s language may be, they cannot be fired for it absent a threat of personal violence or something similarly egregious. This effectively creates a new exception to the at-will employment rule in Massachusetts.