Our colleagues , Eric I. Emanuelson, Jr. at Epstein Becker Green have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to our readers: “Massachusetts “Grand Bargain” Makes Changes to Blue Laws for Retailers.”

Following is an excerpt:

A legislative bargain requires give-and-take from all stakeholders. On June 28, 2018, Massachusetts Governor Baker signed House Bill 4640, “An Act Relative to Minimum Wage, Paid Family Medical Leave, and the Sales Tax Holiday” (the “Act”). This “grand bargain” gradually raises the minimum wage, provides for paid family and medical leave, makes permanent the Commonwealth’s annual tax holiday, and phases out Sunday and holiday premium pay requirements. While Massachusetts employers must now adjust to an increased minimum wage and new paid family medical leave program, retailers with eight or more employees may see those costs mitigated by the gradual elimination of Sunday and holiday premium pay mandates. …

Read the full post here.

*Eric I. Emanuelson, Jr., is a 2018 Summer Associate at Epstein Becker Green.

In Tze-Kit Mui v. Massachusetts Port Authority, Massachusetts’ highest court held that Massachusetts law does not require employers to pay departing employees for accrued, unused sick time within the timeframe prescribed for “wages,” as the term is defined by the Massachusetts Wage Act.

In reaching its decision, the Court analyzed the plain meaning of “wages” under the Act and concluded that the legislature did not intend that “wages” would include sick time. The decision removes a significant concern for Massachusetts employers who are strictly liable for treble damages — and can face criminal liability —  for failing to pay wages in a timely manner.

The case involved an employee Massachusetts Port Authority (“Massport”), who retired while disciplinary charges were pending against him.  Massport discharged the plaintiff for cause weeks after his retirement.  Following a grievance procedure, his discharge was overturned by an arbitrator who found that the plaintiff could not have been discharged because he had already retired.

The plaintiff had 2,232 hours of unused sick time at retirement. Since a discharged employee is not eligible for sick pay under Massport’s sick time policy, Massport did not pay the plaintiff for his unused sick time until after the arbitrator’s decision finding that he had retired prior to being discharged.  The payment occurred more than one year after the plaintiff’s retirement.

The plaintiff filed suit, seeking treble damages for alleged violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act. Under the act, an employer must pay wages or salary earned by a departing employee “in full on the following regular pay day.”  A discharged employee must be paid wages or salary earned “in full on the day of his [or her] discharge.”

The plaintiff argued that Massport had violated the act by failing to timely compensate him for his unused sick pay. The plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in the Superior Court was granted.  Massport appealed, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

In evaluating whether sick pay qualifies as wages under Massachusetts law, the Court looked to the plain language of the Act to discern legislative intent. The act defines “wages” to include “any holiday or vacation payments due an employee under an oral or written agreement,” but does not reference sick pay.  The Court declined to read sick pay into the definition where it had not been expressly included by the legislature.

In addition, the Court explained that vacation time is different from sick time. The crucial distinction is that sick time, as defined by Massachusetts law, can only be used if the employee or a family member is ill, whereas vacation time can be used for any reason.  The Court reasoned that, because employees do not have an absolute right to use sick time, Massachusetts law does not require employers to compensate employees for accrued, unused sick time, and employers can adopt “use it or lose it” sick time policies.  Since employers are not required by law compensate employees for unused sick time, the court concluded “such time is clearly not a wage under the act.”

Under its policy, Massport agreed to pay departing employees for accrued, unused sick time as long as the employee had worked at Massport for two years and had not been terminated for cause. The Court characterized this arrangement as a “contingent bonus.”  Commissions are the only contingent compensation considered wages under the act provided that they “ha[ve] been definitely determined and due and ha[ve] become payable to [the] employee.”  The Court declined to extend the definition of “wages” to include other types of contingent compensation.

Finally, the Court concluded that, under the circumstances of the case, it would have been impossible for Massport to comply with the Act. The issue of the plaintiff’s separation date was not resolved until the payment deadline provided by the Act had lapsed.  Because compliance would not have been possible in this case, interpreting the act to include sick pay as wages would lead to an absurd result.

While the decision is a favorable one for employers who do business in Massachusetts, given the significant liability that employers may incur for failing to comply with the Act, Massachusetts employers should confer with counsel when wage payment issues arise.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers: “New Jersey’s Appellate Division Finds Part C of the “ABC” Independent Contractor Test Does Not Require an Independent Business

Following is an excerpt:

In a potentially significant decision following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 220 N.J. 289 (2015), a New Jersey appellate panel held, in Garden State Fireworks, Inc. v. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“Sleepy’s”), Docket No. A-1581-15T2, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2468 (App. Div. Sept. 29, 2017), that part C of the “ABC” test does not require an individual to operate an independent business engaged in the same services as that provided to the putative employer to be considered an independent contractor. Rather, the key inquiry for part C of the “ABC” test is whether the worker will “join the ranks of the unemployed” when the business relationship ends. …

Read the full post here.

By Evan J. Spelfogel

On December 17, 2012, in Crocker v Townsend Oil, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court invalidated a settlement agreement, waiver and release to the extent it purported to release claims under the Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws, but did not expressly include that statute by name among the claims being released. Specifically, the Court held:

We…conclude that a settlement or contract termination agreement by an employee that includes a general release, purporting to release all possible existing claims will be enforceable as to the statutorily provided rights and remedies conferred by the Wage Act only if such an agreement is stated in clear and unmistakable terms.  In other words, the release must be plainly worded and understandable to the average individual, and it must specifically refer to the rights and claims under the Wage Act that the employee is waiving.  Such express language will ensure that employees do not unwittingly waive their rights under the Wage Act.  At the same time, this course preserves our policy regarding the broad enforceability of releases by establishing a relatively narrow channel through which waiver of Wage Act claims can be accomplished.

In settling claims with departing employees and offering severance packages in return for all-encompassing written waivers and releases, employers often list by category in the settlement papers, among others, all tort and contract claims, claims for emotional distress, all public policy and statutory claims including, without limitation, all claims that might arise under anti-discrimination laws and wage and hour laws.  We have frequently advised employers that they would be better protected if they listed expressly at least the relevant major federal and state statutes.  In light of Crocker, employers who wish to obtain binding waivers of wage and overtime claims under Massachusetts law must be careful to list the Massachusetts Wage Act expressly, in the settlement documents.

By Kara Maciel and Casey Cosentino

The restaurant and hospitality industries are no strangers to the tidal wave of wage and hour class action lawsuits. Restaurants and hotel operators located in states with employee-friendly laws like Massachusetts, New York, and California, are particularly vulnerable. This vulnerability was recently confirmed on April 30, 2012, when Texas Roadhouse, Inc. agreed to pay $5 million to settle a putative class action suit filed by wait staff employees from nine restaurants in Massachusetts.

In Crenshaw, et. al, v. Texas Roadhouse, Inc. (No. 11-10549-JLT), the plaintiffs alleged that Texas Roadhouse violated Massachusetts Tips Law by retaining and distributing proceeds from their gratuities to managers and other non-wait staff employees, including hosts/hostesses. Additionally, because the plaintiffs did not receive all of their gratuities, they asserted that Texas Roadhouse improperly claimed the tip credit against the minimum wage in violation of Massachusetts Minimum Wage Law. As such, Texas Roadhouse allegedly paid the plaintiffs less than minimum wage. The plaintiffs, therefore, argued that they were entitled to full minimum wage for all hours worked.

Under Massachusetts law, employees who receive at least $20 per month in gratuities may be paid $2.63 per hour (“tip credit”), provided that the gratuities and hourly pay rate when added together are equal to or greater than the state minimum wage of $8.00. If the employee does not receive the equivalent of the minimum hourly wage with his or her tips, the restaurant or hotel must pay the difference. Although restaurants and hotel operators are prohibited from retaining employees’ gratuities, they may distribute properly pooled tips. Accordingly, when the tip credit is claimed to satisfy the minimum wage, only employees who customarily and regularly receive tips are eligible to participate in the tip pool. These employees include wait staff employees (e.g., banquet servers and bussers); service employees (e.g. baggage handlers and bellhops); and bartenders. Conversely, employees not eligible for tip pool arrangements include kitchen staff, cooks, chefs, dishwashers, and janitors. Also, under no circumstances are employers, owners, managers, or supervisors permitted to share in the tip pool.  

The Texas Roadhouse settlement illustrates the importance of adhering to state and federal minimum wage laws. A violation of a tip pool arrangement can lead to high exposure for restaurants and hotels, not only with respect to money wrongfully withheld from employees, but also with potential tip credit violations. With the flood of class action suits, restaurants and hotel operators must continue to make compliance with wage and hour laws a top priority. As a best practice, restaurants and hotel operators should conduct regular self-audits of their wage and hour practices, in consultation with legal counsel. Identifying and correcting wage and hour mishaps before plaintiffs collectively seek action is the first defense to preventing class action suits and reducing legal liability.