Employment Law

SJC Determines Unpaid Commissions Due to Retaliatory Firing "[M]ust Be Trebled," per the Wage Act

Recently in Parker v. EnerNOC, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court held that, per the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §§ 148A, 150, an employee, who was deprived of a commission as a result of a retaliatory termination by her employer prior to the commission coming due, was entitled to treble the amount of the unpaid commission.

Gender-Based Discrimination Claim Remanded For Determination By Jury

Even a seemingly objective performance evaluation process may not insulate an employer from claims by an employee that their termination was discriminatory. In a 2013 unpublished decision, Rochat v. L.E.K. Consulting, LLC, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 1108 (2013), the Appeals Court reviewed a Superior Court decision to dismiss gender discrimination claims made by a terminated employee against her former employer. The terminated employee, a second-year consultant with a previously promising career with the firm, earned a negative performance review from the supervisor of a project she worked on toward the end of her second year. That review led, ultimately, to the termination of her employment. Until the last few months of her employment, the employee had generally positive reviews every six months during her tenure with the company and consistently received praise for her work ethic and enthusiastic attitude. She claimed that the decision to terminate her was the product of gender bias.

Appeals Court Clarifies What Constitutes Exceeding An Arbitrator's Authority, Approves Arbitration of Wage Act Claims

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that an arbitrator exceeds her authority only when "she awards relief beyond the scope of the arbitration agreement, beyond that to which the parties bound themselves, or enters an award prohibited by law." Conway v. CLC Bio, LLC, 2015 WL 9883907, Mass. App. Ct. No. 14-P-350 (June 12, 2015), at 5-6. The Court also reiterated that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") requires enforcement of an agreement to arbitrate statutory claims "absent a question of arbitrability, countervailing Congressional command, or cognizable challenge to the validity of the agreement to arbitrate." Id., at 10.

Domestic Violence Leave in Massachusetts

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.

Earned Sick Time For Employees

In November 2014, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question that requires all private sector employers to provide employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per calendar year. Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, 2015, employers of 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave for employees. Employers having less than 11 employees must provide unpaid sick leave for employees. This law applies to full-time, part-time and temporary employees performing work for compensation.

CEO's Indirect Statements Can Give Rise to Retaliation Lawsuit

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.

May Massachusetts employment laws be applied outside the state?

The Supreme Judicial Court recently held that a Massachusetts company could be sued by non- Massachusetts residents for conduct that occurred outside of Massachusetts. In Taylor v. Eastern Connection Operating, Inc., 465 Mass. 191 (2013), employees of a Massachusetts company who worked and lived in New York sued their employer under several Massachusetts statutes (specifically, those that govern the classification of workers as employees or independent contractors and the payment of wages and overtime compensation), claiming - among other things - that their employer had improperly classified them as independent contractors. Notwithstanding the fact that their written contracts with the employer contained "choice-of-law" provisions specifying Massachusetts state court as the jurisdiction where suit could be brought, the employer moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims, claiming lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Non-compete with inconsistent terms may not be enforceable

A recent Superior Court decision warns employers of the pitfalls that result from using non-compete agreements that contain consistent terms. In ARS Services, Inc. v. Morse, 2013 WL 2152181 (Super.Ct. 2013), Judge Edward P. Leibensperger considered whether to issue a preliminary injunction to a company that sought to enforce a non-compete agreement against a former employee who began competing directly against it in its existing market.

When Must An Employer Make A Reasonable Accommodation For An Employee's Disability?

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.

SJC: Release of Wage Act Claims Requires Specificity

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.

Important Changes Brought About By The CORI Reform Law

The final changes brought about by the CORI Reform Law went into effect on May 4, 2012 and, with those changes, how employers access and use a job applicant's criminal history has changed. Employers must comply with the new procedures or may face fines up to $50,000.

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