A 2008 Amendment to the Massachusetts Wage Act simplified the award of treble damages in wage act violation cases. The amendment takes discretion away from the court and makes treble damages a mandatory award.
“An employee so aggrieved who prevails in such an action shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for any lost wages and other benefits and shall also be awarded the costs of the litigation and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
M.G.L.A. 149 § 150
Thus, even an employer who has a good-faith, reasonable basis for its actions will be liable for treble damages in the event of a violation of state wage laws. Prior to this 2008 amendment treble damages were discretionary and punitive in nature and would have only been available to punish willful misconduct.
The Supreme Judicial Court held an employer liable for treble damages and attorney fees and costs for failure to pay wages including vacation pay when due upon termination, without proof of intent. Dixon v. City of Malden, 464 Mass. 437 (2013). Even in Dixon, where the employer alleged that the plaintiff had suffered no damages because of an unnecessary, voluntary payment in excess of the wages owed, the unanimous decision in Dixon repeated its warning that the Act is a strict liability statute, and thus, “[c]ontrary to the city’s assertion, a violation of the Wage Act results in damages. It is settled law that the Wage Act ‘impose[s] strict liability on employers.”’ Dixon v. City of Malden, 464 Mass. at 452 (quoting Somers v. Converged Access, Inc., 454 Mass. 582, 592 (2009)).
The amended law was a direct action by the legislature to address the Supreme Judicial Court’s interpretation of awarding treble damages. The law is also meant to incentivize employers to comply fully with the Massachusetts wage and hour laws, especially those laws pertaining to overtime pay, minimum wage, pooling and distribution of tips, misclassification of independent contractors, and retaliation against employees who seek payment of wages.