What are my wife’s rights if she recently told her boss she was going back to school but received a demotion as a result?

She was going to keep her regular hours at work and take a couple of night courses to further her education that she put on hold for work and raising 3 children. After she told her boss the “what she thought was good news”, her boss demoted her and took away her supervisors position and said it wasn’t a demotion? Isn’t this an illegal practice?

Asked on June 3, 2014 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Unless your wife has an employment contract which protects her job, title, pay, etc., it is not illegal. Without an employment contract, all employent is employment at will. Among other things, employment at will means that an employee can be demoted at any time, for any reason which is not illegal discrimination. Only a few things are considered illegal discrimination, such as taking negative action against an employee due to his/her race, sex, religion, age over 40, or disability. However, the law does not protect people who are going back to school or seeking a degree or certification: therefore, an employer may demote someone doing this because he is worried that the employee will be less devoted to her job because of the outside interest, or even just out of spite or jealousy that the employee is trying to better herself or her life.

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