Employers must pay wages in full and on time or else pay treble damages. So says the Massachusetts Wage Act, and finally, in an opinion released on April 4, 2022, so says the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Reuter v. Methuen.
The Wage Act has a long history in Massachusetts, refined over the years as a result of a long history of wage theft, poor business practices and related problems. For employers who prioritize their employees, good payroll practices and proper payment of wages, they find themselves at a disadvantage to competitors who care less. For employees who miss out on important wages, the wage act violations are more severe. But, for years, many employers have continued to flout the law – often gambling that an employee would never find a good employment lawyer, or that even in the face of such challenge, the employer would just pay what was due, often months and years late.
The Supreme Judicial Court finally saw otherwise, reading the statute exactly as it was written. Recognizing that the law was designed to protect “employees who often live paycheck to paycheck and who may not be able to pay rent or other necessities,” the Court resisted the weight of big business who pressed a reading of the law that gave them all the room in the world. “The Legislature has chosen the stick rather than the carrot to encourage compliance with the act and to address a history of nonpayment and wage theft.”
With that lead in, the Court then ruled that late payments must be trebled, just as the Wage Act says. In short, the wage game is up, and employers must now pay all wages in full when they are due.
If you’re owed unpaid wages – whether regular wages, commissions, or overtime – give us a call.