Rescently, the Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments for a case involving workers in a Boston restaurant, who complained to management about the restaurant’s tip-sharing policy. Shortly after the complaints, each employee was fired. A lower court found for two of the terminated employees, who had voiced complaints with the Attorney General’s Office. The other employees’ retaliation claims, however, were denied because the complaints had been voiced internally, and not to the AG’s office.
On appeal, the workers are arguing that the Massachusetts retaliation statute’s broad language prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who assert internal allegations of wage violations, including oral allegations. Moreover, the attorney for the workers noted to the Court that if the statute only protected workers who filed complaints with the AG’s office, employees would immediately go the AG’s office “the moment they feel a wage violation is in effect . . . instead of trying to resolve it internally and amicably.” She also noted that if the Court does not reverse the lower court’s ruling, employers will have an incentive to fire workers the moment the worker suggest a wage law has been broken.
The restaurant also asserted powerful arguments to the Court. Specifically, the restaurant noted the problems which would arise if the retaliation statute were interpreted “to allow amorphous oral complaints to be a predicate for retaliatory claims.”
The outcome of this case will certainly be of interest to Massachusetts employers. This decision will undoubtedly affect employers’ actions with respect to sub-par employees who voice internal complaints about company policies.