Know Your Wage Rights

Know Your Wage Rights



Employers and workers must both be aware of the wage and hour laws governing the payment of employees.  Employers must understand them so they don’t commit one of the many wage and hour violations and possibly subject themselves to severe penalties, which may include triple damages.  Workers must know their rights and when they are not being treated fairly.

Workers in Massachusetts are protected by federal and state legislation governing the workplace and the employer – employee relationship.  The federal statute is the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA).  The Massachusetts law is codified in M.G.L. Chapter 149 Sec. 148, and in Chapter 151.

Workers in Massachusetts are legally entitled to be paid for all of the time they work and they must be paid on time.  Employers are required to maintain accurate records of hours worked and the rate of pay.  These are to be provided on a pay stub at the end of each pay period.


The minimum wage in Massachusetts is currently $11 per hour.  Governor Baker signed legislation on June 28, 2018 changing the minimum wage law.  The minimum wage will increase gradually from $11 per hour to $15 per hour over a five year period.  On January 1, 2019 it will jump to $12 per hour.  The minimum wage will then increase .75 cents per hour every year until January 1, 2023, when it reaches $15 per hour.  As part of this “Grand Bargain,” workers employed in retail businesses will gradually lose their right to time and a half for Sunday and holiday work over the same time period.

For some employees in the service area who receive tips, such as food service workers, they must be paid the rate of $3.75 per hour.  The tips received plus the service rate of $3.75 per hour must add up to the $11 minimum wage for the work week.  If it does not, the employer must make up the difference.

Agricultural workers must make $8 per hour.


Pursuant to 151 Sec. 1A, an employee who works more than 40 hours per week is entitled to be paid one and one half times the weekly hourly rate for any time in excess of 40 hours, unless the employee is exempt.

Exempt vs. Non-Exempt

Some employees can be classified as exempt from the overtime pay requirement.  The misclassification of employees as exempt is a common problem in Massachusetts, and employers and employees must be aware of the requirements.  In order to be considered exempt, the employee must be paid a salary and must perform specific job functions.  The following must be met:

  • an employee must be paid on a salary basis, a minimum of $455 per week; and
  • the employee must perform job duties which are more “white collar” in nature and which would classify the individual as an executive, administrative, professional, computer or outside sales employee.

Problems occur when an employee is paid the required salary but does not fit into one of the exempt classifications based upon the job duties.  Payment of a salary does not mean, on its own, that the employee is exempt.  The job duties must be more professional and managerial than manual in nature.

Employers sometimes try and avoid the overtime pay requirement by paying an employee who performs manual and non-executive, professional or administrative duties the required minimum salary.  The employee may then be required by the employer to work 45, 50 or even 60 hours per week without payment of overtime.

It is therefore of vital importance that an employer’s job classifications match the actual duties performed by an employee within that classification and that they meet one of the “white collar” exemptions.  Otherwise an employer can be penalized and the employee entitled to damages.


If an employer fails to pay wages and overtime as required by Massachusetts law, the damages can be severe and punitive.  Also, the right to be paid for hours worked is strictly enforced in Massachusetts.  The Massachusetts Wage Act provides for treble, or triple damages, for unpaid wages and overtime, salary, bonuses or commissions.  In addition, attorney’s fees will be awarded if a claim is successful.

That is a great incentive for employers to abide by the Massachusetts wage and hour laws.  If they don’t, the damages awarded to an aggrieved worker will more than make that employee whole.