by Michelle De Oliveira
Employment law is constantly changing as courts issue groundbreaking decisions, and new statutes are enacted at both the state and federal level. For this reason, the importance of regularly conducting employment-related risk management trainings for a company’s management team has become critically important. Below are some examples.
The Massachusetts Wage Act and the Costly Consequences for Violations
The recent Massachusetts Wage Act decision in Reuter v. City of Methuen will have the following significant implication for employers moving forward: An employer that terminates an employee and does not pay the employee in full for all wages earned through the employee’s termination date on the actual termination date may be liable for three times the employee’s unpaid wages, plus attorney’s fees and costs. Better yet, the employer will be exposed to treble damages, attorney’s fees and costs if the discharged employee enforces their rights under the Wage Act by, for example, retaining counsel or filing a lawsuit.
Accordingly, potential costs associated with Wage Act claims and defending such claims could be significant. Not only can the company be sued, but the Wage Act may also trigger personal liability as it states, among other things, that “the president and treasurer of a corporation and any officers or agents having the management of such corporation” may be held liable for violations of the Wage Act. In other words, owners and officers, among others, can be individually sued or held liable for potential Wage Act violations.
To that end, employers should strongly consider conducting management trainings to emphasize the importance of properly handling employee terminations and the timely payment of wages. The time is ripe for such trainings.
Preventing and Addressing Workplace Harassment
I dedicate a portion of my practice to conducting workplace trainings on how to prevent and address workplace discrimination and harassment. At almost every training, we find that there is always a manager (or two) who does not understand their company’s policies relating to harassment and discrimination. This is a potential costly mistake for employers.
Discrimination and harassment trainings are a terrific tool and resource to ensure that managers are well-versed on company policy, and that they will know, among other things, how to enforce company policy and respond to any issues that may arise in the workplace. Ensuring that management teams have this understanding and knowledge is critical for employers.
In 2020, there were 2,223 complaints filed at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination relating to allegations of employment discrimination or harassment, and in 2021, there were 1958 complaints filed. As to filings on the federal level, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there were 67,448 claims filed in 2020 and 61,331 claims filed in 2021.
Although trainings are not guaranteed to eliminate the possibility of a lawsuit, they offer a cost-effective and proactive approach toward preventing or minimizing such claims, and employers should consider implementing such trainings regularly.
Adhering to the Personnel Records Statutes and Understanding an Employee’s Right to Rebut Information Placed in their Personnel Records
The decision in Meehan v. Medical Information Technology, Inc. highlights an employee’s statutorily protected right to file a rebuttal in response to information being placed in the employee’s personnel records. Often, a manager makes personnel recommendations, including with respect to terminations, demotions, etc. Conducting management trainings on the implications stemming from Meehan can go a long way for employers seeking to educate their management and guard against potential claims.
It goes without saying that being proactive and taking concrete steps to train managers on employment-related risks may be an invaluable tool to avoid stepping into a litigation landmine.
Michelle De Oliveira, Esq. is a partner at Kenney & Sams.