On December 17, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that the termination of an at-will employee for exercising their right to rebuttal under the Massachusetts Personnel Records statute is a violation of public policy. In Meehan v. Med. Info. Tech., Inc., an employee alleged that his employer terminated him after he filed a rebuttal in response to being placed on a “performance improvement plan.” The trial court dismissed the employee’s complaint because the right to file a rebuttal under the personnel record statute was not a sufficiently important matter of public policy.
The SJC reversed the trial court’s decision. The Massachusetts Personnel Records statute gives an employee who disagrees with information contained in his or her personnel record the right to supplement the personnel record with a written statement explaining their position. The SJC held that terminating an employee for filing a written response to a personnel record violated the public policy exception to at-will employment. Under that exception, employees may not be terminated for asserting a legally guaranteed right, such as filing a worker’s compensation claim. The SJC explained that in enacting the personnel records statute, the Legislature determined that the right to file a rebuttal is a matter of public significance.
The Court rejected the notion that its decision undermined the employment at-will doctrine, explaining that an employer remains free to terminate an employee for any lawful reason or no reason at all, with or without notice. According to the SJC, an employee’s rebuttal simply memorializes his or her position, but does not create any additional rights.
However, the Court limited an employer’s ability to take any retaliatory action against an employee for the contents of an employee’s rebuttal, explaining that emotions inevitably run high in this process, and the employee’s expression of disagreement with information in a personnel record, “no matter how intemperate and contentious the expression” may not be grounds for termination. The Court noted, though, that this protection from termination does not extend to “threats of personal violence, abuse, or similarly egregious responses.”
Whether you are an employer contemplating taking action against an employee after their filing of a rebuttal statement, or an employee who believes that you may have been retaliated against for exercising this legally guaranteed right, please contact either Michael Bednarz, Esq. or Robert R. Berluti, Esq.