Managing Partner Philip Gordon was an in-studio guest on WBZ-AM’s “The Paul Sullivan Show,” on September 4, 2006, along with State Representative Peter Koutoujian. The segment discussed Massachusetts Wage and Labor Law and a bill designed to protect workers from unscrupulous employers who withhold wages, salaries and benefits, and protect law-abiding business from the resulting unfair competition.
Excerpts from the program:
Sullivan: “Why do we need this legislation?”
Gordon: “To strengthen a 1993 law protecting wages that was the subject of a controversial decision by our state supreme court last summer. The bill requires employers who skip payroll to pay those employees 3 times the amount of the missed wages.”
Sullivan: “How long does it take to get restitution?”
Gordon: “Typically, wages are due every two weeks, and it can take up to 18 months to prosecute a case. The reason for triple damages is straightforward – if, at the end of a case, all an employer has to pay is the original amount due, then there’s no incentive to abide by the law in the first place. Triple damages are the remedy.
The concept is simple: the employer hires the employee, sets the wages, sets the hours and knows when pay is due. This legislation is geared to compensate employees for losses incurred when they’re not paid – that’s where triple damages come into play.”
Sullivan: “What will the new law do?”
Gordon: “This law will do two things. First, it’s designed to be a deterrent – if you don’t pay your employees, you’ll owe them 3 times their wages. Second, it’s designed to compensate employees for damages they suffer. When workers don’t get paid, they may be left with very tough choices to make – do I pay the heating bill, buy food for the kids, or clothing? It compensates them for the hardships caused.
It’s also geared to leveling the playing for competitive businesses. This bill is good for business. For example, I got a call from a company out in Worcester. They’re in the mortgage business. They were consistently underbid by a competitor who was holding payroll and using the savings to lower costs. By cheating employees out of wages, he could underbid the honest businesses. The company wanted to know what could be done about this – that’s wear this legislation can help.
But mostly, it’s about employees who haven’t been paid wages. When I testified before the Labor and Workforce Development Committee on behalf of the bill, I was joined by Dennis Rugoletti, a client whose employer not only failed to pay his wages, including salary, but also promised him health insurance and then failed to pay the premiums. But he never told Dennis. Dennis only found out that he didn’t have insurance when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. His story is just one of the thousands of employees victimized each year that underscore the need for legislation clarifying the important and strong protections afforded under Massachusetts Law.”
Sullivan: “So what happens in a case like that?”
Gordon: “Unfortunately he has to sue, which can take quite awhile. He doesn’t get the money right away. Hopefully we can make the law strong enough and clear enough that defense attorneys can’t try to figure out ways to avoid compensating employees.”
Sullivan: “What about undocumented workers who may be afraid to report employers who cheat them out of wages?”
Gordon: “It’s a good question, but the law is clear – whether or not you’re documented, you deserve to get paid for your work. I know undocumented workers are hesitant to report problems because of concerns about getting deported. But if the employer chooses to make immigration status an issue, he puts himself in a vulnerable position for hiring illegal immigrants in the first place. In any case, that’s certainly one of the risks.”