Treble Damages Legislation Becomes Law

In late February, we alerted you to the General Court’s efforts to pass legislation designed to strengthen penalties imposed on employers by reinstating automatic treble damages for employees who prevail in wage and hour lawsuits against their employers. (See Feb 27 and Feb 29 blog entries). We’re pleased to tell you that the legislation has now become law, taking effect on July 13.

As we noted earlier, the Governor refused to sign the legislation after it was first passed, instead sending it back to the legislature with a request that the law be watered down in favor of employers. Both houses of the General Court quickly rebuffed the Governor’s attempt to weaken the law and returned it to him without change. The Governor therefore had to veto it, sign it, or do nothing, which will cause it to become law. He chose the third, and the bill has now become law because Patrick failed to sign it or veto it.

The law reaffirms that the legislature intended for employers to pay treble damages when they break the law. That intent was questioned by the Supreme Judicial Court three years ago, when the court instructed judges to examine whether the violation was intentional before deciding on damages. Efforts to “fix” the SJC’s interpretation were launched almost immediately, but failed under the Romney administration. The legislature is to be commended for not letting the issue go, and for standing up strongly in support of workers who face unlawful actions by their employers.

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