On September 5, 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave (“DFML”) issued new guidance on when employers must count 1099-MISC workers as part of their workforce for purposes of the Paid Family and Medical Leave (“PFML”) program. In its press release announcing the new guidance, the DFML stated that the guidance was issued after meetings with representatives from hundreds of businesses across Massachusetts during which the businesses consistently sought clarification on whether they are required to collect contributions from, and report on, 1099-MISC workers.

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A collective sigh of relief could be heard across the Commonwealth yesterday as anxious business owners, insurers, and employment lawyers heard the news that Massachusetts government leaders had agreed to a three-month delay of the implementation of the first-in-the-nation Paid Family and Medical Leave law.

With a July 1 deadline to begin making payroll deductions looming, many questions remained about the law.  Are the deductions pre-tax or post-tax?  (We still don’t know.)  Which employees and independent contractors are covered?  (It’s complicated.)  Should employers seek an exemption by adopting a private plan?  (Maybe?)  With the deadline now moved to October 1, legislators and employers have some much-needed breathing room to answer these and other questions about the law.


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The SJC, Massachusetts’ highest court, issued its long awaited decision in Sullivan v. Sleepy’s LLC,  SJC-12542 on May 8, 2019. The case should be of concern to businesses which pay individuals fully or primarily by commission, especially in the retail context or in automobile sales where the ruling departs sharply from federal law.

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For several decades the Massachusetts overtime statute, G.L. c. 151, §1A, required generally that an employee working in excess of forty hours per week be paid “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.”  The statute included twenty categories of exceptions from this overtime pay requirement.  One such exemption applied to laborers “engaged in agriculture and farming on a farm.” G.L. c. 151 §1A(19).  The SJC has recently held, however, that farm growing and harvesting “does not include post-harvesting activities.”  The case is Arias – Villano v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc., 481 Mass. 625 (2019).  Thus, the laborers in Arias-Villano were entitled to time and a half for the type of work they performed beyond “agricultural and farm” work is excess of forty hours per week.  That is, growing and harvesting does not include “cleaning, sorting, and packaging” of or related to the agricultural product itself.  The workers were entitled to overtime pay for such ancillary duties.

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A bill recently filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, if passed, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of height and weight.  The proposed legislation would add height and weight to the list of protected classes covered by the Commonwealth’s antidiscrimination law (G.L. Chapter 151B) and public accommodation laws (G.L. Chapter 272, Sections 92A and 98).

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On February 1, 2019 the Keene Sentinel reported that a Massachusetts construction company had been hit with more than $64,000 in fines after an audit conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Labor. Although the bulk of the fines were related to the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, there were also a number of recordkeeping violations found.

The Keene Sentinel article devotes significant attention to the problems of trying to classify individuals as independent contractors under NH state law, a very difficult burden to meet. The result of the audit and the fines imposed on the business, however, showcase how difficult it is for businesses who typically do not operate in a state to establish a workforce there and be in compliance with state laws.


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Photo: Tomas de Aquino via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

With the first recreational marijuana retail shops now opening in locations throughout Massachusetts, one legislator is proposing protections for employees who choose to use the newly-legal drug on their own time.  The Boston Globe is reporting that Jason Lewis, a state senator from Winchester, Massachusetts, is planning on introducing legislation in the new year that, if passed, would prevent most employers from terminating or disciplining employees for off-duty, legal use of marijuana.


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Photo: Flag of the United States (Public Domain)

In July 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed the BRAVE Act, a wide-ranging piece of legislation including a number of provisions aimed at increasing the support and services available to veterans and their families.  Among other things, the act provides increased tax relief and access to educational programs and other resources to veterans.  The BRAVE Act also updates state law with regard to the time off provided to veterans on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.


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When the Governor signed a recent appropriations bill passed by the House and the Senate during the last days of the most recent legislative session, the bill contained a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The UTSA version in the proposed legislation was buried deep within the appropriations bill, which was not entirely surprising. Such a proposal, entitled “Chapter 93L,” has been held out previously as part of a compromise to proposed non-compete reform, which was also enacted within the same appropriations bill.

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Photo: aldern82 via Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

It took barely 24 hours before what is believed to be the first lawsuit  under the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (“MEPA”) to be filed.  On Monday morning, July 2, suit was filed on behalf of Elizabeth Rowe, principal flautist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Suffolk County Superior Court.  Rowe was hired for the role by the BSO in 2004, and the lawsuit claims that she has asked for years to be paid the same as the principal oboe player, a male.  She alleges that the role of principal oboe is the one most comparable to her position and that paying her some $70,000 less per year amounts to a violation of MEPA.


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