Last week, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass Senator Sal DiDomenico’s (D-Everett) legislation to help prevent the illegal practice of wage theft and promote employer accountability. The bill, S.2327, gives the state greater power to go after wage violators and provides additional tools for the Attorney General’s office to hold violators fully accountable. This is landmark legislation for workersrights, and it is one of the strongest wage theft bills in the country.
“The practice of wage theft comes in many different forms, but they all have the common denominator of hurting workers, their families, our communities, and law-abiding businesses” said DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “This legislation takes crucial steps to protect workers from this illicit practice and holds employers accountable for their actions. I am proud of the action my colleagues and I in the Senate have once again taken to ensure that the hard working men and women of the Commonwealth receive the pay they have earned and rightfully deserve.”
“Wage theft is a crime that affects thousands of Massachusetts residents who are trying to live a happy and productive life in the Commonwealth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “Stealing an employee’s hard-earned wages, in any way, cannot and will not be tolerated. I am proud of the Senate for passing this legislation, and I want to thank Senators DiDomenico and Lewis for their hard work on this issue.”
“Wage theft happens far too often in Massachusetts, and we all agree that it must stop now,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “This bill strikes an important balance to ensure all workers are paid their rightfully owed wages and hold employers accountable, without punishing those who are already doing the right thing.”
“In spite of strong labor laws and many successful and law-abiding businesses in our state, wage theft remains a major problem in Massachusetts, especially for the most vulnerable workers, like immigrants and low-income families” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This legislation will help prevent and deter wage theft, ensure a level playing field for all employers, and protect the rights of working families.”
Wage theft has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy, with an estimated $700 million stolen from 350,000 employees each year in the Commonwealth. This illegal practice can take many different forms, such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees, or simply not paying workers at all. Wage theft also hurts law-abiding employers by creating an uneven playing field for companies that follow the law and that do right by their workers.
To crack down on wage theft and increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors liable for wages, as well as any penalties or fines, associated with wage theft violations. The bill also enhances the enforcement power of the Attorney General’s office by allowing it to bring wage theft cases to court and seek civil damages.
In cases where there has been a determination of a wage theft violation, the Attorney General would have the ability to issue a stop work order, temporarily halting work until the violation is corrected. Employers would then have the ability to correct the violation and resume operation, or request a hearing.
The bill also establishes a wage theft compensation fund, administered by the Attorney General, to expend funds to workers and lead contractors under certain circumstances, as well as to provide worker outreach and education to prevent wage theft.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.