Unpaid Wage Claims / Wage & Hour Disputes
As a Massachusetts employee you have a justifiable expectation to be paid fair, reasonable wages, on a timely basis for the work you perform for an employer. Payment of wages is a foundational element of the employer-employee relationship, and the concept also applies to certain independent contractor or consultant relationships. When your employer fails to uphold its end of the bargain, it erodes your trust, undermines your confidence, and can put you in a challenging financial position.
Massachusetts and Federal Wage Claims and Disputes
All workers deserve to be paid in accordance with state and federal laws, or as required by the terms of an employment contract where one exists. If your Massachusetts employer does not comply with wage and hour statutes in paying you, you have options to recover the amounts owed to you. At the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs wage issues, including provisions on minimum wage and overtime. However, the FLSA also provides that states can enact their own laws establishing a minimum wage that is higher than the federal rate.
Massachusetts has opted to increase the state minimum wage above the federal rate, requiring most employers to pay $11 per hour. For employees in the service industry who make tips, the minimum wage is $3.75 per hour. The state’s statute on overtime requires employers to pay time-and-a-half for overtime, which includes all time that exceeds 40 hours per week. There are special provisions that make employees in certain positions exempt from overtime rules, including those in administrative, professional sales positions, as well as seasonal workers, workers who are provided with living quarters, and others designated by law.
Examples of Wage and Hour Disputes
Even though Massachusetts and federal law are clear on an employer’s duties, unpaid wage claims and wage and hour disputes are common. Reviewing the following scenarios may help you recognize the signs if your employer is not complying with the law and paying you fairly:
- Timely Payment: If your employer does not pay you according to the Massachusetts Wage Act, you may have a claim. The statute requires weekly or bi-weekly wage payments, which must be given to you within a certain number of days after the end of the pay period. Employers cannot withhold wages or fail to pay them on time.
- Requiring “Off the Clock” Work: You are entitled to be paid for all work you perform, so an employer cannot force you to do certain tasks without pay.
- Not Paying Overtime: Unless you fall within one of the job types designated by statute, your employer must pay overtime at a rate of 1.5 times your normal wages. If you are not paid on an hourly basis, your overtime rate must be adjusted to account for what your normal salary would be.
- Failing to Comply with Agreed Compensation: If you work under an agreement that provides for a salary, vacation time, sick days, benefits, and other terms, your employer must adhere to the contractual provisions. An organization cannot unilaterally make changes to an agreement without your consent or withhold sick or vacation time already accrued.
What to do About Unpaid Wage Claims
You may consider approaching your employer and/or human resources department regarding a wage dispute, but it is often necessary to take more aggressive action to obtain the wages you deserve. Though you are not required to retain an attorney to represent you, it is wise to seek representation as soon as you believe you are not being paid fairly under Massachusetts law. A lawyer can assist with:
- Filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Fair Labor and Business Practices Division;
- Gathering all documents and information to ensure your wage claim includes proper evidentiary support;
- Representing you in connection with other potential proceedings, such as filing a lawsuit for breach of contract, discrimination, or retaliation; and,
- Providing advice and counsel on any additional legal options you may have for unpaid wages or wage and hour disputes.
Damages and Other Considerations in a Massachusetts Wage Claim
If you bring a claim under the Massachusetts Wage Act, you may be entitled to recover unpaid wages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. In addition, you may obtain a special kind of compensation termed “treble” damages. This provision of the Wage Act essentially takes the amount owed to you and multiplies it by three, tripling your recovery. You do not need to prove that your employer willfully or intentionally failed to pay your proper wages, so a mistake may still be grounds to recover treble damages.
Also, you should note that:
- Time is of the essence, since there are certain limitations on wage claims in Massachusetts. You only have three years to file a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General, which is measured from the date that your claim arises.
- Filing a claim with the Attorney General is a required first step in enforcing your rights. Under the principle known as exhaustion of your administrative remedies, you must submit this type of complaint before you can sue in court.
- Another reason to file with the Attorney General is to perfect your right to treble damages under the Wage Act.
Wage and Hour Disputes – Links & Resources
Guide to Pay and recordkeeping – This is a state-maintained information source which includes links about Minimum Wage, Tips, Overtime, Payment of wages (including commissions), Records, and Working on Sundays and holidays and the laws corresponding to each.
General Laws Part I Title XXI Chapter 149 Section 148A – Massachusetts state law regarding the illegality of punishing employees for looking to enforce their wage and hour rights.
Protections against retaliation – Massachusetts state webpage which explains that employers are not allowed to punish employees for “exercising their rights under wage and hour laws.” This also gives examples of retaliation, links to Anti-Retaliation Fact Sheets in various languages, and links pertaining to the wage and hour rights of immigrant workers also in various languages.
Independent contractors – Outlines the Massachusetts state rules for who can accurately be categorized at independent contractors. Provides questions which, based on your answers, help to identify if independent contractor status is appropriate.
General Laws Part I Title XXI Chapter 149 Section 148B – Regulations about what constitutes an independent contractor for the state of Massachusetts.
An Advisory from the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division on M.G.L. c. 149 s. 148B 2008 – A publication from the Massachusetts Attorney General regarding Massachusetts Independent Contractor rules.
United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Resources for Workers – Includes links to a multitude of resources and “Mini Cards” meant for employees relating to federal rights and enforcement of laws pertaining to wage and hour issues.
Major Laws Administered/Enforced by the WHD – Summaries of and links to the federal laws which the WHD of the US Department of Labor enforces.
- Over the past five years, employees have recovered $1.2 Billion dollars by pursuing the enforcement of federal labor laws via the Wage and Hour Division.
- There were 2967  Nonpayment of Wages complaints filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General in 2017. 
- 157 (5.3%) of these complaints regarded the misclassification of Independent Contractors. 
- 383 (12.9%) of these complaints related to retaliation for attempted enforcement of laws for nonpayment of wages.
- 253 (8.5%) of these complaints had to do with disputes over unpaid commissions.
- 532 (17.9%) of these complaints related to issues with overtime pay.
- 433 (14.6%) of these complaints related to nonpayment of vacation pay. 
- The Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division enforced rights pertaining to wage and hour disputes in 126 cases in 2017.
- 19 (15.4%) of these cases ended up being settled for a total of $2,254,281.40.
- The cases which did not reach a settlement, the remaining 84.6%, resulted in assessments totaling $1,504,943.46.
- 20 of the cases resulted in assessments of $10,000 or above.
- The highest total assessment was $486,162.52.
- The following statistics describe the industries involved in the 126 cases.
- 6 (4.7%) of these cases were in the Cleaning/Janitorial industry.
- 24 (19%) of these cases were in Construction industry.
- 9 (7.1%) of these cases were in the Hospital/Nursing Home/Healthcare industry.
- 34 (26.9%) of these cases were in the Restaurant/Hotel industry.
- 10 (7.9%) of these cases were in the Retail/Sales industry.
- The industries which represented the remaining 34.4% were Auto Mechanics, Child Care/Education, Domestic Worker, Entertainment/Gaming, Landscaping/Snow Removal, Manufacturing/Food Processing, Moving, Hair and Nail Salons, Security, Services, Staffing/Temp Agencies, Technology/Biotech, Transportation/Delivery, Waste Management, and Miscellaneous. Each of these industries had five cases or less.
 Note that this total and the subsequent breakdowns below exclude certain complaints whose data would reveal the identity of the individual that filed the complaint.
A Skilled Attorney Can Assist with Massachusetts Wage Claims and Disputes
Your wages are your source of economic stability, ensuring you can provide for your household and are set up for a strong financial future. When a Massachusetts employer fails to comply with the legal requirements in paying you, the experienced wage disputes attorneys at Rodman Employment Law are at your side to help you navigate the claims process. For more than 70 years, our legal team has been dedicated to enforcing the rights of our clients in all types of employment matters. Our unpaid wage claims and wage and hour disputes attorneys at Rodman Employment Law have more than seven decades of combined experience fighting on behalf of employees who suffer hardship when employers shirk their legal duties. We serve clients in Boston, Newton, MA, and throughout Middlesex County, and we are dedicated to helping enforce your rights in a wage claim or dispute.
If you feel that your employer is in violation of the Massachusetts laws or the terms of an employment agreement, please call (617) 820 5250 to reach the Newton, MA Law Firm of Rodman Employment Law. We can schedule a consultation to discuss the details of your unpaid wages claim or wage dispute.