What Is Considered and What Is Not Considered Harassment in Massachusetts?

Judge reading application for a Massachusetts Harassment Prevention Order deciding if there is harassment in this case.

In Massachusetts, harassment is defined under the law as three or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person that are intended to cause fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property. Examples include:

  1. Threats – Making threats to harm someone physically or ruin their reputation.
  2. Stalking – Repeatedly following or watching someone.
  3. Property Damage – Intentionally damaging someone’s property.
  4. Physical Assault – Any unwanted physical contact.
  5. Sexual Harassment – Unwanted sexual advances or remarks.

Conversely, actions that are typically not considered harassment include:

  • Single Incidents: A one-time comment or action (unless extremely severe).
  • Basic Rudeness or Disagreements: Ordinary conflicts or blunt comments without a pattern of targeted behavior.

Harassment Under Massachusetts Law

Harassment in Massachusetts encompasses repeated acts that are willful, malicious, and aimed to cause fear, intimidation, or damage. These actions include physical assault, verbal abuse, sexual jokes, and online harassment through social media and electronic communication.

Different Types of Harassment

The scope of harassment extends beyond the physical, including psychological harassment, discriminatory harassment based on protected characteristics like:

  • sexual orientation,
  • gender identity, and
  • national origin,


and unwanted sexual advances. Recognizing these forms is the first step in taking legal action.

Chapter 258E: Harassment Prevention Orders

Purpose and Function of 258E Orders

Massachusetts law provides for 258E Harassment Prevention Orders as a legal remedy if you’re experiencing harassment. These orders are designed to prevent further unlawful harassment and other forms of intimidation by legally stopping the harasser from continuing their behavior.

Obtaining a 258E Order

To secure a 258E Order, you must demonstrate a pattern of harassment that meets the state’s legal threshold. This involves documenting incidents of harassment, often supported by:

  • text messages,
  • emails, and
  • witness statements,

which illustrate the unwelcome and offensive nature of the behavior.

Filing for a Harassment Prevention Order

The process begins with filing a detailed complaint in your local court.  You need to clearly state all the examples of how you’re being harassed. You can get a 258E Harassment Prevention Order if your harasser has:

  • committed certain crimes,
  • forced or coerced you to have sexual relations, or
  • committed 3 or more separate acts of harassing behavior.


Harassing behavior is some act that is willful and malicious, aimed at you specifically with the  intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property.

Temporary Harassment Prevention Order

If the judge is convinced that you need protection right away, they will issue a Temporary Harassment Prevention Order. This Order is valid for 10 business days. To extend that Order, you must attend a 2-party hearing where your harasser will also be present. You’ll both have the chance to address the court.

Speech That is Not Harassing

A lot of speech that you consider offensive or hurtful is not considered harassment. This type of speech falls under the protection of the First Amendment. So even though someone may say something that upsets you, you can’t get a Harassment Order based on that.

Speech That is Harassing

True Threats

True threats encompass communications or behaviors that convey a clear intent to cause harm or instill fear in another individual. These threats can range from direct statements of violence to actions that suggest an imminent danger to your safety or well-being. In legal contexts, true threats are distinguished from protected forms of speech by their explicit nature and the reasonable apprehension they create in you. Such threats can have serious implications for personal safety and may lead to legal consequences, as they violate your rights to feel secure and free from harm in your daily life.

Fighting Words

Fighting words are verbal expressions or gestures that are likely to provoke an immediate violent response from you. These words typically involve:

  • insults,
  • taunts, or
  • challenges

directed at an individual in a confrontational manner. Unlike ordinary speech, which is protected by the First Amendment, fighting words fall outside the realm of protected speech due to their potential to incite violence or breach the peace. Courts have recognized that such words can cause harm by triggering aggressive reactions and undermining public order.

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.

Enforcement and Compliance

Once granted, compliance with a 258E Order is mandatory. Violations of the order are considered serious legal offenses in Massachusetts and can lead to fines, legal actions, and potential criminal charges against your harasser, ensuring your protection.

Addressing Workplace Harassment

Recognizing Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment can include a:


  • hostile working environment,
  • quid pro quo harassment, and
  • other forms of discriminatory harassment.


Employers are legally obligated to prevent such behavior and provide harassment prevention training to all employees.

Victims of workplace harassment can pursue multiple legal avenues, including filing harassment complaints with local governments or seeking disciplinary action against perpetrators through internal channels or legal systems.

Support and Resources

Victims of harassment have access to non-profit organizations, charities, and legal entities specializing in dealing with harassment issues, including sexual harassment lawsuits and psychological support.

Next Steps After Filing a Complaint

After initiating legal action, the next steps may involve preparing for court appearances, gathering potential witnesses, and continuing to document any new incidents of harassment to strengthen the case.


Understanding your rights under Massachusetts law regarding harassment and the specific protections offered by 258E Harassment Prevention Orders is essential for maintaining your safety and legal rights. Awareness and proactive legal steps can significantly impact your ability to combat harassment and ensure a safe and respectful environment.

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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