This week’s question comes from Marco, a small business owner in Massachusetts. I terminated an employee. He wants to get his paycheck before he leaves the building. How quickly must I pay a terminated employee? Answer: Under Massachusetts General Law (MGL) c. 149 §148, “any employee discharged from such employment shall be paid in full on the day of his discharge.” Therefore, Massachusetts employers should pay terminated employees on the day of their termination. Contact Vision Payroll if you have any questions on paying terminated employees.
The Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as amended (IRC) provides in §106 for an exclusion from income for employer-provided health insurance that covers the employee, the employee’s spouse, the employee’s children, and the employee’s qualifying relatives. Prop. Treas. Reg. § 1.125-1(h), 22 Fed. Reg. 43937 (August 6, 2007) clarified that coverage for a former spouse who is not a dependent is not excludible from an employee’s income. Therefore, the fair market value of coverage for a former spouse is includible in an employee’s income for federal income tax purposes.
In the recently released, Working Draft Directive 09-XX, Personal Income Tax Treatment of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Coverage for an Employee’s Former Spouse, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue concludes that any income required to be included in federal gross income for coverage required under Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) shall be excluded from Massachusetts gross income. Coverage may be required for former spouses under the following laws, among others: MGL c. 176G § 5A, MGL c. 32A § 11A, MGL c. 175 § 110, MGL c. 176A § 8F, and MGL c. 176B §6B. Contact Vision Payroll if you have any questions on this Working Draft Directive.
In Mullally, et al. v. Waste Management of Massachusetts, Inc., SJC-10181 (Mass. 11/6/2008), the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (SJC) ruled that the defendant (Waste Management) violated Massachusetts law by “calculating overtime wages using a regular hourly rate less than the prevailing wage eligible employees must be paid.” The employees who filed suit were required under Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) c. 149, §27F to receive the prevailing wage rate for “waste disposal employees performing under municipal contracts.” Waste Management had devised a formula under which employees always received the prevailing wage or higher when averaging the hourly rate for straight time and overtime. The SJC ruled that Massachusetts law (MGL c. 151, §1A) requires employees to receive at least the prevailing wage in cash and allowed benefits for straight time and one and one half time the prevailing wage in cash and allowed benefits for overtime. Allowing Waste Management’s formula would evade “the economic disincentive to have an employee work more than forty hours a week” since there would be little or no overtime premium paid regardless of the number of hours worked. The SJC remanded the case to Massachusetts Superior Court for further proceedings to determine the amount of damages. Vision Payroll strongly recommends that you review all overtime calculations with your labor attorney to ensure compliance with all applicable federal and state laws.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently promulgated a new regulation, 201 CMR 17.00, titled Standards for The Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth. The purpose of the regulation is to implement “the provisions of M.G.L. c. 93H relative to the standards to be met by persons who own, license, store or maintain personal information about a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Personal information is defined as:
[A] Massachusetts resident’s first name and last name or first initial and last name in combination with any one or more of the following data elements that relate to such resident: (a) Social Security number; (b) driver’s license number or state-issued identification card number; or (c) financial account number, or credit or debit card number, with or without any required security code, access code, personal identification number or password, that would permit access to a resident’s financial account; provided, however, that “Personal information” shall not include information that is lawfully obtained from publicly available information, or from federal, state or local government records lawfully made available to the general public.
Since all employers should normally store “personal information” about each employee, apparently all employers who employ a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will be required to comply with the regulations. Governor Deval Patrick has also issued a related Executive Order 504 requiring certification of compliance with the order by all state contractors. There are significant procedures that must be implemented and substantial fines for non-compliance. Vision Payroll will be communicating its compliance with the new regulations to all affected clients before 2009. We strongly suggest that you contact your attorney as soon as possible to discuss implementation of the new provisions.
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This week’s question comes from Harold, a business owner. I own a business in Massachusetts. Can I switch from a weekly to a bi-weekly pay period? Answer: Under Massachusetts law it is allowable to change to a bi-weekly pay period as long as employees are provided with written notice. MGL c. 149, §148 requires written notice to each employee at least ninety days in advance of the first bi-weekly check. Contact Vision Payroll if you have questions on pay frequency changes.
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This week’s question comes from Louisa, an HR manager: We have individuals who perform services for us. Does Massachusetts have any laws to determine if these individuals are our employees or independent contractors? Answer: In Massachusetts General Laws (MGL), c. 149, §148B three tests are enumerated and unless the individual meets all three tests, an employer-employee relationship will result. The tests are (1) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under his contract for the performance of service and in fact; and (2) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and, (3) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed. The law also states that not withholding federal or state income taxes or not paying unemployment insurance or workers compensation insurance premiums for this individual has no impact on the determination. Furthermore, even if the individual has a workers’ compensation insurance policy, it is not relevant for making the determination. To further complicate matters, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) issued TIR 05-11, that states the DOR will follow the rules of MGL c. 62B for withholding purposes. Significant penalties exist for misclassifying workers, so be sure to consult your attorney if you have further questions.
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On July 13, 2008, a new law went into effect mandating treble damages for wage and hour violations by Massachusetts employers. Prior to passage of Chapter 80 of the Acts of 2008, triple damages were allowed, but treated as discretionary by state judges. Generally, employers who acted in good faith were not assessed treble damages under the old law. Now, employers’ intent is irrelevant and three times the lost wages or other benefits will be awarded on all wage and hour lawsuits where the plaintiff prevails. Employers will also be required to pay “the costs of the litigation and reasonable attorneys’ fees.” We strongly recommend that all Massachusetts employers review their wage and hour policies and consult with their attorneys if they have any questions.
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