The Massachusetts Senate and House have enacted a bi-partisan bill designed to protect workers from unscrupulous employers who withhold wages, salaries and benefits, and protect law-abiding business from the resulting unfair competition. Filed by Senators Cynthia Creem and Steven Tolman, and Representatives Peter Koutoujian and Martin Walsh, the bill (H. 4663) calls for clarification of existing Wage and Labor laws – restoring the ability of workers to seek and receive triple damages when businesses fail to pay earned wages. It was sent to Governor Mitt Romney this week.
While existing laws protect workers against employers who unjustly withhold wages, a level of ambiguity may allow compensation compliance problems to persist – no small problem considering the Attorney General’s Fair Labor and Business Practices Division receives thousands of employee complaints per year.
“This bill clarifies and strengthens the laws, so there are no more mistakes regarding treble damages,” explains Philip J. Gordon, a supporter of the bill and a specialist in wage and labor laws at the law firm of Gordon Law Group, LLP, who testified on behalf of the legislation. “It’s important not forget the rationale behind multiple damages,” Mr. Gordon continued. “It’s a serious problem when employees aren’t paid – missed rent, student loans, tax payments, mortgages, health insurance premiums, car payments, groceries. Anything less than what this bill provides leaves them very short.”
“Being tough on crime includes being tough on employers who don’t pay wages in a timely way, also a criminal offense,” states Rep. Paul Loscocco (R- Holliston), one of the principal authors of the language in the bill. “This bill represents a bi-partisan effort to clarify that there’s strong and strict recourse against businesses that don’t pay their employees. My hope is that it will help educate employees about their rights as well as deter businesses from non-compliance,” he continued.
“The judges certainly have the responsibility of making sure trials are done in a fair manner and in rendering verdicts in non-jury trials,” said Rep. Michael Rodrigues (D- Westport), Chairman of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “But when it comes to damages for wage violations, there should be no loopholes. Otherwise, what’s the disincentive for an employer? For the sake of every employee in Massachusetts who may at some point become the victim of an unscrupulous employer, I hope the Governor will sign this bill into law.”
“It’s also good for business,” Gordon continued. The bill has remained consistently unopposed by key business groups such as Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), which prides itself on having members who value the importance of paying wages in full and on time. “Many businesses suffer from dishonest competitors who cheat their employees and use the payroll savings to underbid their competitors,” Gordon stated. “This legislation levels the playing field, so law abiding businesses are no longer disadvantaged by paying their employees. It’s a win, win.”.