The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that employees who make internal complaints regarding wage violations are protected against retaliation from their employers. These are the whistleblowing protections under the Wage Act.
In Smith v. Winter Place LLC, 447 Mass. 363 (August 1, 2006), the Supreme Judicial Court reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment finding in favor of defendant-employer and dismissing the retaliation claims of two plaintiff-employees who were terminated after they made a complaint to their manager about their employer’s violation of the tip-pooling law, 149, § 152. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with plaintiff’s contention that the anti-retaliation provision of the Massachusetts Wage Act, located at 149, § 148A, “extends the protection of the statute to employees who are penalized for taking “any action” to seek their rights under the laws governing wages and hours.” Because the employees made an internal complaint about a violation of the wage laws to their manager, they were protected under 149, § 148A, and thus the lower court’s grant of summary judgment which effectively dismissed their retaliation claim was held improper.
It is now clear that an employee need not file a complaint with the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General in order to receive the protections of 149, § 148A. Rather a “complaint made to an employer (or a manager of the employer) by an employee who reasonably believes that the wages he or she has been paid violate [wage] laws” is sufficient to gain the protections of the statute.
Bottom line: internal complaints of wage violations are enough to protect employees from retaliation under the Wage Act.