Short Term Gain, Long Term Loss

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on whether employers need to pay their employees for their time spent waiting in line at mandatory security check.

The employees were temporary workers of Amazon.com contractor Integrity Staffing Solutions, and their roles involved fulfilling Amazon.com customer orders, reports the Wall Street Journal. At the end of each shift, the employees had to pass through a security check to ensure they hadn’t stolen any merchandise, but they allege they had to wait in line for as much as 25 minutes – without compensation.

The case in front of the Court did not originate in Massachusetts, but if it did, we expect it would have been much easier to answer. Massachusetts defines “working time” as “all time during which an employee is required to be on the employer’s premise,” except for meal periods in which the employee doesn’t work.

The key word is “required.” A Massachusetts employer can’t have it both ways. If an employer wants to keep employees on its premises for a required activity, it needs to pay them. Massachusetts takes this issue seriously, so seriously that an employer who doesn’t pay all wages can be liable for triple the unpaid wages, plus attorney’s fees and costs.

So, in Massachusetts, ducking your obligation to pay all wages may provide a short-term gain, but it can be a costly mistake in the long-term.

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