BOSTON — Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed 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 bill addresses an injustice faced by thousands of workers across the Commonwealth and will hold employers accountable for paying wages that are rightfully owed to their employees. With this legislation, the Senate is protecting working families and strengthening their financial security,” stated Senator Brendan P. Crighton, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“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.”
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.
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.