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New Massachusetts Law in Effect for Wage and Hour Damages Claims

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04.25.2008 | Advisory

As a result of a recent change in Massachusetts law, it is now more important than ever for Massachusetts employers to make certain that their wage and hour policies and practices are in full compliance with applicable laws. 

Effective July 13, 2008, employee-plaintiffs will be entitled to triple damages, as well as attorneys’ fees, for successful claims under the state’s wage and hour laws.  On Monday, April 14, 2008, “An Act Further Regulating Employee Compensation” became law in response to the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Widemann v. The Bradford Group, Inc., 444 Mass. 698 (2005), making triple damages mandatory in all cases. 

In Widemann, the lower court awarded triple damages to a plaintiff-employee who disputed her employer’s method of calculating commissioned wages.  This decision was based on the then erroneous impression that Massachusetts wage and hour law mandated triple damages.  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed this decision and held that a determination on whether triple damages were warranted was discretionary and not mandatory.  This allowed trial court judges to assess an award of triple damages on a case-by-case basis, taking into account defenses raised by employer-defendants. 

The change in the law takes away any discretion from judges to award less than triple damages to prevailing employee-plaintiffs.  Likewise, employer-defendants will no longer be able to rely on defenses, such as good-faith or inadvertence, to limit their exposure to triple damages.  For example, triple damages will be awarded for successful claims for failure to pay proper overtime compensation, improperly classifying an employee as exempt from overtime compensation, improper calculation of commissions, improper retention or distribution of tips or service charges, errors in calculating travel time, late payment of wages, improper withholding or deduction of wages, and payment of less than minimum wage.

Massachusetts is the first state in the nation with an automatic triple damages provision.  As a result, state courts are likely to see an increase in class action suits and claims by individuals.  It is critical that businesses review their wage and hour policies and practices to correct any mistakes.  It can be challenging for employers to fully comply with technical provisions of the law. 

For additional information on wage and hour compliance, please contact your Nutter attorney for assistance or an attorney in the Labor and Employment practice group listed on the firm’s website at nutter.com

This update is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. Under the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered as advertising.

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