While the January 2015 increases in the Massachusetts minimum wage for regular and tipped employees have received considerable attention and publicity, the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) also issued new minimum wage regulations to little fanfare. The new regulations have been somewhat of a “sleeper,” even though they are a marked departure from existing law in some areas. They include substantial changes to the prior regulations in the areas of employer notice and recordkeeping requirements, employee uniforms, and deductions for lodging and meals. They also include new language on the topics of working time, on-call time, travel time, and indirect deductions. In brief, the key changes in the new regulations include:
- A new requirement that the minimum wage law poster issued by the Commonwealth be posted in English as well as “any other language that is spoken by 5% or more of the employer’s workforce and for which a translated notice in that language is available from the Commonwealth.” Note: As of the writing of this post, the Commonwealth offers posters translated in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
- A new requirement that wage records be kept for a period of three years and that such records include rate of pay, vacation pay, any deductions made from wages, and “any fees or amounts charged by the employer to the employee.”
- A new requirement that employers must allow employees to inspect their original paper or electronic records “at a reasonable time and place,” and must provide employees with a copy of their wage records within 10 business days of a request by the employee.
- A new requirement that employees be reimbursed for the actual purchase or rental of any uniform they are required to purchase or rent, and that the employer reimburse employees for the cost of any dry-cleaning, commercial laundering, or other special treatment regardless of whether the costs reduce the employee’s hourly rate below the minimum wage or not. Note: Uniforms are broadly defined.
- New obligations in the area of meal and lodging deductions that require the employer to notify employees of the description of the lodging and meal plan, all applicable charges, and that acceptance by employees is voluntary. Employers also must be able to show that employees “voluntarily” accept and receive the meals and lodging in writing.
- A new description of “working time” that includes “rest periods of short duration, usually 20 minutes or less.”
- A new description of “on-call” as being “compensable working time,” unless the employee “is not required to be at the work site or another location, and is effectively free to use his or her time for his or her own purposes.”
- A new description of travel time that requires employers to pay employees for all time spent traveling after reporting “to a location other than the work site or to report to a specified location to take transportation.”
- A new provision that “an employer may not separately charge or bill an employee for fees or amounts not allowed as deductions.”
Exactly how some of the new requirements and language discussed above will be interpreted by DLS and the courts is unclear at the moment. Some of the new provisions, for example, the new definition of “working time,” appear simply to be codifying how the wage and hour laws have been interpreted in the past by DLS and the courts, both state and federal. While others, such as the notice and recordkeeping provisions, are a marked departure from the past regulations and interpretations.
Employers should review their wage and hour policies and practices against the new regulations to ensure that they comply with the DLS’s new requirements. In addition, employers with multilingual workforces should review the DLS’s website frequently to see if the Commonwealth offers new translated posters.