BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate on Thursday to pass a bill that strengthens penalties for wage theft, providing more protections for low-wage workers. The bipartisan bill passed on a 38-0 vote.
“This bill returns workers’ hard-earned wages to them when they have been illegally underpaid or had their wages outright stolen by disreputable employers,” said Sen. Lesser, who serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. “If an employer knew or should have known that workers were being denied their wages, this bill will provide recourse to the employee and penalize the employer. Fair is fair, and this legislation levels the playing field for workers, giving them needed protections when they are taken advantage of.”
The bill, S. 2546, An Act to prevent wage theft and promote employer accountability, empowers the Attorney General to issue a stop work order to an employer that has committed wage theft and impose a penalty of up to $25,000. For the first time, the bill also allows managers and lead contractors to be held liable for wage theft from subcontractors.
As an alternative to initiating civil proceedings, the bill permits the Attorney General to issue a warning or civil citation to an employer that has violated the state’s wage theft or meal break laws, or improperly withheld health insurance deductions.
Under the bill, the Attorney General could also seek damages or lost wages on behalf of workers.
“In spite of strong labor laws and many successful and law-abiding businesses in our state, wage theft remains a major problem in Massachusetts, especially for the most vulnerable workers, like immigrants and low-income families” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, who sponsored the bill. “This legislation will help prevent and deter wage theft, ensure a level playing field for all employers, and protect the rights of working families.”
In 2017, more than 350,000 Massachusetts workers had more than $700 million in wages stolen from them. Due to the types of jobs that can exploited by stealing wages, wage theft victims are usually low-income workers and often immigrants.
Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law to combat wage theft in 1886.
The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives for consideration.