BOSTON (WWLP) – Attorney General Muara Healey released a Labor Day Report detailing efforts the office has taken to combat wage theft.
Over $11.8 million in restitution and penalties were assessed against employers by the office in fiscal year 2022. “This Labor Day, we honor the resiliency of Massachusetts workers whose perseverance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has kept our communities and our economy going,” said AG Healey. “One of my top priorities is ensuring that workers from every industry are paid the wages they are entitled to and that they have access to the hard-fought workplace rights that our laws provide. We will continue to advocate for the rights of workers at the state and national level.”
From July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, the AG’s Fair Labor Division executed its activities in the Labor Day Report. Employers were ordered to pay employees restitution and penalties totaling $4.2 million during this period. Over 19,300 workers benefited from the AG’s enforcement actions.
According to a news release from the Office of the Attorney General, construction workers are often vulnerable to exploitation on the job, making wage theft in this sector a key focus of the Fair Labor Division in the fiscal year 2022. Against employers in the industry, the Division assessed more than $2.9 million in penalties and restitution. As a result of prevailing wage violations and failing to submit certified payroll records, the AG’s office cited a Wareham company and its owners for more than $1.2 million.
On state and state-assisted construction projects, the Division also raised awareness about the importance of workforce participation for women and workers of color. More than 500 public purchasing representatives and industry representatives were trained about the state’s laws requiring a diverse workforce on public construction projects by the AG’s Office, working with the University of Massachusetts Building Authority and the Office of the Inspector General.
Workers in the hospitality industry were represented by the Fair Labor Division in fiscal year 2022. Due to constant exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, hospitality workers, particularly tipped workers in the restaurant industry, remain particularly vulnerable to the disease.
In this industry, more than 1,500 workers were impacted by enforcement actions, which resulted in a total of over $951,000 in penalties and restitution.
A total of $104,000 in restitution and penalties for failing to pay minimum wage, failing to pay employees on time, and for additional violations of the state’s Earned Sick Time, paystub, record keeping, and child labor laws was agreed to buy a Subway restaurant in another case.
Accordingly, the Fair Labor Division celebrated the U.S. Department of Labor’s new Tip Regulation, which limits the amount of non-tipped work. This includes preparing food and cleaning, also that employers may assign to tipped employees while taking a tip credit. To resolve the multi-state lawsuit filed by AG Healey, a new rule was adopted that will simplify the work environment for workers.
The Fair Labor Division also worked to guarantee that, as required by state law, employers in all fields and occupations gave employees at least one 30-minute meal break for every six hours of work. In one instance, the Division assessed $1.5 million in penalties to retailer Family Dollar across 100 sites in Massachusetts for more than 3,900 infractions involving meal breaks that involved 620 employees. Another instance included Dynamic Waste Systems, Inc., which was forced to pay more than $257,000 in fines and restitution after it came to light that the business routinely withheld a half-hour from drivers’ pay for meal breaks without verifying that they took the time off.
The Attorney General’s Wage Theft Clinic will also be restarted by the Fair Labor Division in fiscal year 2022. The Wage Theft Clinic, which was first established in 2016, links employees with free legal advice from private bar attorneys. The monthly clinic was suspended during the worst of the epidemic but resumed in April 2022 with a renewed commitment to helping the most vulnerable employees in the Commonwealth. The clinic is sponsored by the Fair Labor Division in collaboration with several community and legal service providers around Massachusetts.
The Fair Labor Division of the AG is made up of lawyers, investigators, intake personnel, and support employees. Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Haitian Creole, and Vietnamese are among the additional languages that more than 40% of the Division’s staff members are fluent in. The Division upholds state rules that govern the payment of wages, such as those governing minimum wage, overtime compensation, prevailing wage, and paid sick time. Additionally, it safeguards workers from exploitation and wage theft through solid collaborations and community outreach as noted in the Office of the Attorney General news release.
Workers can contact the office’s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465 if they feel their rights have been infringed at work.