BOSTON- Two pieces of legislation filed by Senator Sal DiDomenico were recently passed in the Massachusetts Senate. These bills provide workers with greater wage and labor protections by ensuring compensation for injuries resulting on the job and providing greater tools to pursue civil litigation against unlawful wage practices.
The first bill, An Act relative to fairness in worker’s compensation disfigurement benefits, ensures that workers who suffer permanent bodily harm in the workplace are compensated for their loss under the state’s worker’s compensation law. The other bill, An Act relative to enhanced enforcement of civil penalties, clarifies the authority of the Attorney General’s Office to enforce wage and hour violations directly in Massachusetts courts, thereby providing the AG’s Office the same options as private litigants and strengthening the actions the Office can take against unlawful wage practices. This bill had the support of Attorney General Maura Healey.
“The hard working men and women of the Commonwealth should not have to worry about whether they will be able to support themselves and their families because of illicit wage violations or on the job risks,” said Senator DiDomenico, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “These common sense bills provide long overdue protections for Massachusetts workers that will ensure that employees receive compensation when it is rightfully due.”
“I want to thank Senator DiDomenico for taking the lead on legislation and his work to protect workers across Massachusetts,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This bill will enhance our office’s ability to help workers pursue the unpaid wages they have earned. When employers cheat our most vulnerable workers out of their pay, families struggle to meet their basic needs. I applaud the Senate for passage of this legislation.”
“Today the Senate took action to protect the working families of Massachusetts from wage violations while also helping those injured in a workplace accident,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg. “With the passage of these bills that provide common sense changes to our labor laws, the Senate stands with the working men and women of the Commonwealth.”
Under current Massachusetts Law, workers who suffer permanent bodily harm while on the job are compensated up to $15,000, but only if such disfigurement is on the face, neck or hands. Workers who are scarred on their arms, legs or torso, for instance, do not fall under the law even though they often suffer both physically and emotionally. Workers who have permanent scarring on other extremities often suffer from skin that has healed awkwardly, making certain movements uncomfortable at best and in many cases unbearable. This stipulation in the current law fails to take into account that there are many serious injuries that result in permanent disfigurement on less visible parts of the body that may impact a worker’s ability to obtain and retain employment, and that these workers should be compensated accordingly.
The legislation passed by the Senate today eliminates the requirements that a scar be exclusively on a worker’s face, neck and hands. In addition, the bill changes the compensation from $15,000 to 22.5 times the weekly average wage to keep in step with inflation and the rising cost of living. While the $15,000 cap may have seemed equitable at the time the law was put in place, inflation and the rising cost of health care have made a set dollar amount an inefficient way of judging equitable compensation. By creating an equation based on salary, the law will not need to be updated regularly and will be more objective and equitable for workers who are injured on the job.
The other bill passed by the Senate provides the Attorney General’s Office with the authority to enforce wage and hour violations directly in court. Under current law, the AG has the ability to give employers either a civil citation for wage violations or proceed with a criminal complaint. However, when a civil citation is written, an employer has the ability to appeal that citation to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA). Meanwhile, that employer who is in violation with wage or hour laws can continue to bid on public construction during their appeal.
Delays in the process before DALA can impair effective enforcement, leave workers without their hard-earned wages for months, and may not stop ongoing violations of the law. Furthermore, after a decision by DALA is made, an employer may appeal that ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court, causing further delays in adjudication. This bill amends the law to give the Attorney General’s Office the ability to stop ongoing wage and hour violations and prevent further financial harm to employees.
These bills will now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.