The commonwealth of Massachusetts is a majority jurisdiction following the legal common law concept of employment-at-will. Employment-at-will jurisdictions do not require employers to have legal or valid reasons for terminating their employees. Similarly, employees can terminate their employment at any time and without advance notice. The Massachusetts Attorney General and the Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development agency are responsible for ensuring that employers pay their employees final paychecks in a timely manner and compensate them for all wages due.
Although employers are required to provide their terminated employees with their final paychecks at the time of termination, different rules apply to employees who voluntarily terminate employment. An employer does not have to pay an employee who voluntarily terminates employment for her final work hours until the employer’s next pay date. However, Massachusetts law requires employers to pay wages within six days of when they were earned. Thus, the employer must pay an employee for his final wages within six days of his resignation.
On June 11, 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling in response to a case where an employer did not include unused vacation time in an employee’s final paycheck. Before the Court issued the ruling, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office provided employers with a formal opinion stating that compensation includes accrued vacation pay. Although employers in Massachusetts are not required to pay their employees for time not worked, they are free to provide their employees with paid vacation leave.
If an employer’s verbal or written personal policy provided paid vacation time to its employees, the attorney general believes it is included as compensation. In upholding the attorney general’s opinion letter, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that wages include unused vacation leave, if provided by an employer. However, although the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office believes the pay requirement applies to terminated employees and those who voluntarily resign, there is no formal directive from the Supreme Judicial Court or the legislature.
An employee’s final paycheck must include overtime compensation at time and one-half for all overtime hours exceeding 40 hours per workweek. Additionally, it must include all standard work hours. Under Massachusetts law, non-supervisory retail employees must also receive overtime compensation at time and one-half for Sunday retail work. An employee must receive at least $8 per hour, the commonwealth’s minimum wage, current as of 2011.
The Massachusetts Wage Act does not require employers to pay their employees any severance compensation absent an agreement to pay. Employers who fail to pay their employees all wages due within the mandatory timeframe can be held guilty of violating the commonwealth’s wage laws and wrongfully withholding an employee’s wages. The commonwealth can fine employers for violating the Massachusetts Wage Act and require them to compensate their employees at three times the amount wrongfully withheld, attorneys’ fees and legal fees, according to the Massachusetts Treble Damages Law.
Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.