Judge Cornelius Moriarty of the Worcester Superior Court recently found that unused personal time is included within the definition of “wages” under the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, § 148.
The case, Donna Byrnes v. Konstantina B. Lukes et al., (Docket No. WOCV200901403, Sept. 27, 2012), involved various claims arising out of the termination of a teacher’s employment. Among other things, the plaintiff asserted a claim under the Wage Act seeking to recover payment for 1.5 unused personal days. The employer opposed the claim on the grounds that payment for unused personal days is not “wages” under the Wage Act.
As Judge Moriarty noted in his opinion, the Wage Act does not expressly define the term “wages.” He observed, however, that in construing the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, the Supreme Judicial Court has held that “wages” includes “all forms of remuneration for work performed,” suggesting an expansive view of what is covered. Judge Moriarty rejected the argument that the language in the Wage Act expressly including holiday and vacation pay in the definition of “wages” somehow excludes personal days, which are not specified in the Act. Judge Moriarty wrote that the references to holiday and vacation pay in the Act are “merely illustrative and not exclusionary.”
Based on his finding that unused personal days constitute wages, Judge Moriarty awarded the plaintiff $346.50 in damages. This case was filed in 2009, at a time when the Wage Act provided for discretionary trebling of damages. Due to a recent amendment ot the Act making treble damages mandatory, had the case been brought today, the plaintiff’s damages would have received three times as much for her claim.
While the Byrnes case is not binding precedent, it is still noteworthy as it reflects at least one judge’s analysis on the evolving issue of what is, and is not, included in “wages” under the Massachusetts Wage Act.