What Behaviors Are Not Considered Harassment in Massachusetts?

Man and woman arguing at work, but it's not harassment according to Massachusetts law.

Behaviors not considered harassment under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 258E (Harassment Prevention Orders) include:

  1. Consensual interactions: Freely agreed upon social interactions without coercion or intimidation.
  2. Ordinary conflicts: Everyday disagreements or disputes that do not involve threats or physical harm.
  3. Accidental behavior: Actions not intended to cause fear or intimidation.
  4. Respectful communication: Exchanges that, while possibly assertive, do not involve threats or abusive language.
  5. Legal conduct: Actions within the scope of law and personal rights, without any intent to harass or intimidate another person.

These behaviors generally do not meet the legal definition of harassment necessary to obtain a prevention order, which typically requires showing repeated acts aimed at causing fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 258E allows you to seek Harassment Prevention Orders to protect against potential harm. Understanding what constitutes harassment under this law is crucial for employees who believe they may be experiencing or witnessing unlawful behaviors in the workplace. This guide offers an in-depth look at harassment prevention, focusing on Massachusetts law, to empower employees with knowledge and practical advice.

What Qualifies as Harassment Under Massachusetts 258E?

Understanding Protected Characteristics

Harassment under Massachusetts 258E involves unwanted conduct that targets a specific individual that is intended to cause:

  • fear,
  • intimidation,
  • abuse, or
  • damage to property.

It’s essential to recognize that harassment can occur through various forms, including:

  • physical actions,
  • verbal abuse, and
  • unwelcome sexual advances.

Hostile Work Environment vs. Reasonable Person Standard

For behavior to be considered harassment in the workplace, it must be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment from the perspective of a reasonable person. This standard helps determine whether the conduct significantly disrupts an individual’s work environment.

Federal and State Laws on Harassment

While federal laws like the Civil Rights Act provide a foundation, Massachusetts law under Chapter 258E offers specific provisions that address behaviors which might not meet federal thresholds but are significant under state law. Understanding these differences is critical for employees seeking help through Harassment Prevention Orders.

Forms of Harassment Recognized in Massachusetts

Physical assaults, verbal harassment, and other forms of workplace harassment such as offensive jokes or inappropriate behavior on social media are covered under this statute. Even indirect harassment through third parties or public mediums can qualify if they contribute to a hostile environment.

Steps to Take if
Experiencing Harassment

Documenting and Reporting Harassment

The first step in addressing harassment is documenting every incident, including:

  • dates,
  • times,
  • witnesses, and
  • detailed descriptions of each event.

This documentation is crucial when seeking a harassment prevention order or filing a complaint.

Filing for a Harassment Prevention Order

If the harassment persists, you can file for a Harassment Prevention Order in Massachusetts. This legal document requires proof of repeated harassment and is processed in state courts, providing a quick and effective remedy to prevent further abuse.

Harassment Prevention Orders: Process and Expectations

Applying for an Order

The application process involves presenting evidence to a judge, usually on the same day the application is filed. The criteria focus on proving the harassment occurred on multiple occasions and that it presents a real threat to the applicant’s safety or well-being.

What to Expect in Court

Understanding what to expect during the court proceedings can help applicants prepare their cases effectively. This includes knowing:

  • how to present evidence,
  • what types of questions to anticipate from the judge, and
  • the legal standards that the conduct must meet to be deemed harassment.

Employer's Role in
Preventing Harassment

Employers in Massachusetts are legally obligated to prevent harassment and to take appropriate corrective action when incidents occur. This includes:

  • creating a harassment policy,
  • training staff on these policies, and
  • handling complaints swiftly and effectively to ensure a safe and inclusive workplace.

Promoting an Inclusive Workplace

Beyond legal compliance, fostering an inclusive workplace culture is crucial. Employers must actively work to eliminate discriminatory practices and offensive behavior, ensuring all employees feel respected and valued.

Help Getting a Restraining Order in Massachusetts

If you’d like help getting a Restraining Order without paying an expensive attorney, we can help. With our Legal Coaching we can walk you through every step to make sure you’re ready for your hearing. The first thing to do is see if you qualify for a Massachusetts Restraining Order. Click on the link below to see if you qualify for either type of Restraining Order.

Advocacy and Support

Various organizations and legal clinics offer support and advocacy for individuals dealing with harassment. These resources can be invaluable in providing additional support and information, ensuring that individuals do not have to face these challenges alone.


Understanding Massachusetts 258E and recognizing what constitutes harassment are the first steps toward securing a harassment-free workplace and beyond. Whether you’re an employee experiencing unwelcome behavior or an employer aiming to uphold a safe working environment, knowledge and preparation are your most powerful tools.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and receive tailored guidance.

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