Four Common Misconceptions about Massachusetts Wage Laws
Money is tight. Times are tough. Your paychecks are short, but you don't want to cause trouble at work. Here's what you need to know to protect your rights in the workplace.
I Can't Get Overtime Because I'm a Salaried EmployeeThis is the number one mistake that employers make when it comes to putting an employee on salary. By putting you on salary, that means the business gets to pay you the same amount of money each week no matter how many hours you work, right? WRONG. Overtime pay in Massachusetts is based on your job description - not on your title, and not on your weekly pay. Unless you are what is considered an "executive," "administrative," or "professional person," you may be entitled to overtime pay, at a rate equal to one and one half times your regular rate of pay. Before you dismiss your entitlement to time and a half pay, consult the exempt professions outlined in Massachusetts General Laws, c. 151, s. 1A. You might be getting shorted on overtime pay and not know it.
If I Complain to My Boss, I Might Lose My JobA great concern for many clients who are not being properly compensated for their time is that if they voice their concerns to their employer, they will lose their jobs or face other consequences at work. Massachusetts affords many protections to workers, one of which is a strong anti-retaliation law. If you make a complaint to your employer about what you believe is a violation of the wage laws, your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you. This can include terminating you, taking away hours or changing your schedule, forcing you to perform undesirable tasks, threatening you, or giving false or negative references for future employment. Employers can face stiff monetary penalties (up to $15,000 per violation), and even imprisonment. While you may feel you have a lot to lose by reporting a violation of your rights, relatively speaking, your employer has more to lose.
I'm Not a US Citizen or Legal Resident, So I Have No RightsThe Massachusetts Wage Act was enacted specifically to protect the most vulnerable of employees - immigrant workers - from exploitation. The law protects everyone regardless of immigration status. As mentioned above, threatening to report an employee to immigration or other legal authorities for standing up for their rights is considered retaliation under the law, and is punishable by monetary fines, imprisonment of up to one year, and a penalty of one to two months' pay. Courts will not inquire as to whether you have any legal status in the United States if you choose to prosecute a claim under the Wage Act.
I Can't Afford a LawyerMost attorneys in Massachusetts will take a case under the Wage Act on contingency, meaning the attorney will not take any money up front, and will not get paid unless you get paid. If you are successful in your claim, the other party (the defendant) will have to pay your costs and attorney's fees, as well as three times your damages! Seeking legal help will cost you nothing, and having an attorney on your side can make all the difference in your case.