Under the Massachusetts Wage Act, when an employee is either terminated or let go from employment, an employer is required to pay that employee all wages due to him within a certain period of time. If an employer fails pay the employee in a timely manner, the employee can bring a claim against the employer under the Wage Act.
Such a claim has three parts: the employee “must prove
- He was an employee under the statute;
- His deferred compensation constitutes a ‘wage’ under the statute;
- The defendants violated the Act by not paying him his wages in a timely manner.” Doucot v. IDS Scheer, Inc., 734 F.Supp.2d 172, 192 (D.Mass.2010).
But wages do not simply include salary or hourly earnings. Under Massachusetts law wages also “include any holiday and vacation payment due the employee under an oral or written agreement.” Therefore, employers must compensate employees for the value of their unused holiday or vacation time when they leave their employment.
In a recent case, Dixon v. City of Malden, an employee’s contract was not renewed and a replacement for his position found. When he was told his services were no longer needed, he had fifty unpaid vacation days, which were worth over $13,000. The employer continued to pay him from March 21st to June 29th. When the employee filed suit against the employer for failing to compensate him for his vacation time, the employer countered saying that he had been more than fairly compensated through the continuation of his salary and benefits.
But, the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with the employer. “Gratuitous salary payment, and the benefits associated with salary payments, do not constitute payments for earned and accrued vacation time.” Dixon v. City of Malden, 464 Mass. 446, 451-52 (2013). Furthermore, the court found that the employer was strictly liable, meaning the employer’s intent was not an issue, and the failure to pay the wages due at the time of firing results in damages being awarded to the employee.
While the court declined to assess triple damages (although triple damages are now mandatory if an employer is found to have violated the Wage Act, at the time this case was filed, such an award was at the discretion of the trial judge).