The Whistle Blower Act, Mass. General Laws Ch. 149 § 185(b), provides that a public employer may not retaliate against a public employee who has (1) "blown the whistle" or, in other words, disclosed an activity, policy or practice of the employer that the employee believes is a violation of a law, rule, or regulation and a risk to public health, safety or the environment; (2) provided information to a public body conducting an investigation into such activity; or (3) objected to or refused to participate in such activity. Retaliation under the Act includes any adverse employment action, such as demoting, suspending or firing the employee who makes the disclosure or objects to the activity.
In a ruling that brings certainty to employers and employees, this month the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued two opinions concerning workers' compensation benefits, specifically, the scope of an insurer's lien. Generally, under G.L. c. 152, the workers' compensation statute, most private employers in Massachusetts are mandated to purchase workers' compensation insurance or qualify as self-insured. The law enables employees to receive benefits after on-the-job injuries, but prohibits them from suing their employers. Under Chapter 152, injured employees can recover payment for damages such as medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and lost wages. However, they cannot recover compensation for pain and suffering.
In April 2015, Massachusetts' Parental Leave Act went into effect. G.L. c. 149, §105D, previously known as the Maternity Leave Act became the Parental Leave Act, applicable to both men and women. The law continues to apply only to employers with six or more employees. It provides for 8 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child, adoption of a child or placement of a child pursuant to a court order, although if both parents work for the same employer, they can only take a combined total of 8 weeks of leave.
In the recent case of Fitzgerald v. The Chateau Restaurant Corp., No. 14-01990-J, 2016 WL 344155 (Mass. Sup. Ct. Jan. 4, 2016), a former manager at The Chateau Burlington and The Chateau Andover restaurants filed a putative class action against parent company The Chateau Restaurant Corporation, Inc. and several related corporations which owned individual Chateau restaurants in the Massachusetts Italian restaurant chain. In his complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that he was routinely denied the opportunity to take his off-site meal break--because of a company policy that if only one manager was on site, that manager could not leave the restaurant--yet he still had his pay automatically deducted to account for such a thirty-minute meal break. Id. at *1-2. Fitzgerald filed a putative class action on behalf of himself and other similarly situated hourly managers at any Chateau restaurant location during the six-year period preceding the commencement of the action, alleging violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act, violation of the Massachusetts Overtime Act, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Id.
In August 2014, An Act Relative to Domestic Violence was signed into law and became effective immediately. Section 10 of the Act, codified at G.L. c. 149, §52E, created new protections for an employee who is, or whose covered family member is, a victim of abusive behavior. Abusive behavior includes domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and kidnapping. Under the new law, employers with 50 or more employees must provide employees up to 15 days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period if the employee or covered family member of the employee is a victim of abusive behavior.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision last week allowing a retaliation lawsuit to proceed because the company's CEO told others that he wanted to "get rid of" an employee, even though there was no evidence that the CEO made those statements directly to the supervisor who terminated the employee, or that the CEO was in any way involved in the termination decision.
Most employers know that they have a duty to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability or job restriction, but what that actually means in practice can be confusing. Statutes that require such accommodation are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and, in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law, General Laws Ch. 151B. To fall under the protection of either statute, the employee must have a physical or mental disability (or handicap) that substantially limits one or more of his or her major life activities. The statutory definitions of major life activity are quite broad and can range from bodily functions to cognitive activities.
Although the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Statute, M.G.L. c. 149, § 148B, is intended to protect workers by ensuring that they receive "the many benefits, both public and private, that employees enjoy," the fact that a worker may not want to be classified as an employee often does not matter when determining the worker's proper classification.
In the recent decision Crocker v. Townsend Oil Company, Inc., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a general release that intends to release claims under the Massachusetts Wage Act, M.G. L. c. 149, §148 ("Wage Act") will be enforceable as to those claims only if the release contains an explicit waiver of Wage Act claims. If specific language waiving Wage Act claims is not included in a general release, such claims will not be released.