Top Employment Law Changes for Massachusetts Businesses- End of Year Review

By Sasha Thaler

2014 brought a number of legislative changes which will affect Massachusetts employers of all sizes in 2015.  Here is a recap of the top 5 changes employers should be prepared for in the New Year.

1.  Wage Act Recovery Extended to 3 years, up from 2

The statute of limitations for violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act has been extended to three years, up from two years, as of the fall of 2014.  In addition, the time for filing is put on hold (tolled) from the time an employee files a complaint with the AG’s office to when the AG issues a right to sue letter or its enforcement action becomes final.  Together with Massachusetts’ mandatory tripling (trebling) of damages for Wage Act violations, this can lead to a significant increase in liability for employers facing Wage Act claims.

2.  Massachusetts Minimum Wage Increases

The hourly minimum wage for non-tipped employees climbs to $9.00 as of January 1, 2015.   Minimum wage for tipped employees will rise to $3.00 per hour as of the New Year.

3.  Earned Sick Time

Starting July 1, 2015, all Massachusetts employers will be required to provide sick time to their employees.  For employers with 11 or more employees, the time off must be paid; for smaller employers it may be unpaid.  Sick time must be accrued at a rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked, and employees may take and carry over up to 40 hours of sick time in a calendar year.  Unused sick time need not be paid at termination.  Employers with existing paid time off policies should review those policies may need to revise those policies to ensure they provide the same benefit as required by the new law.  Click here to see our prior post on this new law.

4.   Massachusetts Domestic Violence Leave

As of this past summer, employers with at least 50 employees must permit their workers to take up to 15 days of leave, which can be unpaid, in a 12 month period, when requested to deal with domestic violence or other abusive behavior or its effects, whether for themselves or a family member.  This can include seeking medical attention, obtaining counseling, dealing with the court system, among other reasons.  Employers must not retaliate against employees seeking the leave.   Click here to read our prior post on this topic.

5. New Protections for Employees under Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance Law

Effective March 24, 2015, the Unemployment Insurance law creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation against an employee who is terminated or experiences a substantial alteration of the terms of employment within 6 months of providing evidence or testifying at an unemployment hearing.  To rebut the presumption, the employer must show clear and convincing evidence that the employer’s actions were not a reprisal against the employee and that there is sufficient independent justification for the action.  Employers who violate these prohibitions or threaten or coerce employees in connection with an unemployment claim may be required to reinstate the employee and pay costs of suit and attorneys’ fees.  This serves as another reminder of the importance of keeping current and consistent records regarding employee performance and conduct – contemporaneous records are the best (and sometimes the only effective) defense against a claim of retaliation .

This sums up the top 5 new or changes to Massachusetts employment laws, which will effect all Massachusetts businesses and those that do business in Massachusetts.   With a change in leadership at the State House, we expect 2015 to be a busy year; we will keep you informed.

Happy New Year, from all of us at Bello Welsh LLP.