Full-scale Change - New Wage-and-hour Provision Will Test Employers

June 20, 2008

Effective July 13, a new provision of the state's wage-and-hour laws take effect. In terms of language, it's a simple change -- substituting the word 'shall' for 'may' when it comes to awarding triple damages for violations of such statutes -- but it could have big implications for individual businesses, and perhaps for the economy as a whole.

"Fresh meat for plaintiffs' lawyers." This is the colorful phrase Fred Sullivan summoned to describe employers in Massachusetts -- and, more specifically, what he believes they will become after (and perhaps even before) July 13. That's the date when new legislation regarding the state's wage-and-hour statutes will take effect.

In a way, the measure involves a simple change of one word in one sentence of a statute. But the shift in terms, from 'may' to 'shall' with regard to the awarding of triple damages for violations of those wage-and-hour laws, could have some serious ramifications for area employers and perhaps for the state's economy as well, said Sullivan, a principal with the Springfield-based firm Sullivan Hayes & Quinn, which represents businesses in employment-law matters.

"I think this sends a clear message from the Legislature to American and global businesses to put your jobs somewhere else, and essentially stay out of Massachusetts," said Sullivan, who told BusinessWest that the new measure effectively removes any and all measures of discretion when it comes to awarding damages in such cases. And because it does, he believes it unfairly punishes employers and makes them attractive targets for plaintiffs' lawyers.

"This is unneeded and unnecessary," he said, adding quickly that there have always been provisions for treble damages in cases where offenses were egregious. The new measure will punish people for making honest mistakes in an area of the law that is very complicated and dominated by "gray" areas, he continued, calling the amendment "overkill."

"The damnable thing..."

You may read more at the link below.

by: George O'Brien

BusinessWest
June 9, 2008

Download the full PDF version: PDF