Employers in Massachusetts violate wage and hour laws in several ways, including minimum wage violations, failing to pay overtime, denying workers guaranteed meal and rest breaks, misclassifying nonexempt workers and failing to pay their employees on time.
In 2017, an Economic Policy Institute study found that nearly 2.5 million U.S. workers lose $8 billion annually to employers who violate wage and hour laws. Most workers are protected by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state laws enacted to ensure that they receive the pay they deserve.
Some violations are intentional on the part of employers to increase their profits. Others occur due to ignorance of the law or a lack of adequate accounting and payroll practices. An experienced Massachusetts employment law attorney can help hold your employer accountable when they break the rules.
Examples Of Wage Theft
Wage theft is defined as an employer failing to pay workers their full wages and other benefits they are entitled to receive. These include:
- Paying workers less than the minimum wage
- Failing to pay workers overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 per week
- Asking workers to perform duties off the clock
- Not giving workers legal meal breaks
- Illegal pay stub deductions or not distributing pay stubs
- Wage violations for tipped employees
- Misclassifying nonexempt workers as exempt employees
- Misclassifying regular employees as contractors
- Failing to distribute paychecks or payouts on time
The sad reality is that many wage theft victims are people who can least afford it. While state and federal agencies are tasked with enforcement, staff are often stretched thin and struggle to investigate claims.
The State’s Highest Court Issues A Landmark Ruling Over Late Wages
In April 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a significant decision requiring employers to pay damages for late wage payments. In Reuter v. City of Methuen, the court ruled that employers who fail to comply with the Massachusetts Wage Act face "treble" or triple damages for all unpaid wages.
The ruling closed a gray area that many employers exploited. Before the decision, employers were only on the hook to pay accrued interest between the legal payday and the date they issued the payment, as long as they issued the check before being served with a lawsuit filed in court. This usually only amounted to pennies or a few extra dollars.
However, after April’s ruling, employers must now pay up to triple the claim amount regardless of when a lawsuit is filed or they are served with legal papers. For example, if an employee’s paycheck for $1,500 comes late, they can receive up to $4,500 in damages from their employer. That’s just one example. Many of these penalties result in thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
In Reuter v. City of Methuen, the city terminated an employee after she was convicted of larceny. However, Methuen failed to pay her on the day she was let go for accrued vacation time amounting to $8,952. The city finally issued a check three weeks later. However, Reuter demanded $23,872, asking for treble damages and attorney’s fees.
Recognizing its mistake not paying Reuter on time, the city sent her a check for an additional $185, which amounted to treble interest for the three weeks the payout was delayed. A lower court bench trial ruled in Methuen’s favor, allowing only treble damages for the interest. But the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, saying the city’s actions clearly violated state laws. Justices said the statute leaves no “wiggle room” and that any failure to pay wages, including accrued vacation pay, subjects employers to treble damages on all unpaid wages.
The Ruling Establishes A Clear Remedy
Before the decision, unscrupulous employers or those unaware of state and federal laws could take advantage of workers with little repercussion for delaying payroll or payouts. These actions caused untold hardships for people living paycheck-to-paycheck, and many were forced to juggle rent, mortgage and loan payments, along with food and other necessities.
The ruling not only creates significant penalties for employers but also makes complaints and remedies cut-and-dried as any late payments are clear violations, subject to treble damages. Employers must pay their workers on time or face expensive consequences, and workers are usually not forced to endure long, drawn-out legal battles.
If your employer engages in this or any other unlawful activity, it’s advisable to consult with a knowledgeable employment law attorney. I have over 25 years of experience guiding victims of wage theft and other violations through the process. You work extremely hard to care for your family’s needs, and the absolute least an employer can do is to follow the rules, pay what you’ve earned and pay on time.
The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.
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