Private Right of Action
Workers have the right to sue their employers for violations of wage and hour and prevailing wage laws. This is called the worker's "private right of action." These violations include:
- Not paying a required minimum wage (M.G.L. §§ 1, 2, and 7)
- Not paying wages in full (M.G.L. c. 149, § 148)
- Not paying a prevailing wage on a public works project (M.G.L. c. 149, §§ 27, 27F-27H)
- Not paying overtime (M.G.L. c. 151, § 1A)
- Retaliation (M.G.L. c. 149, § 148A; M.G.L. c. 151, § 19(1) and (5))
- Classifying workers as an independent contractors incorrectly (M.G.L. c. 149, § 148B)
- Taking any part of workers' tips (M.G.L. c. 149, § 152A)
- Violating the right to earned sick time (M.G.L. c. 149, § 148C)
- Not following the rules for domestic workers (M.G.L. c 149, § 190)
Workers may sue on their own or as a group with other workers, if they have similar complaints.
Workers who win their case have a right to:
- triple damages,
- attorney fees and
- court costs.
Deadline to Sue
There are strict deadlines for starting a lawsuit, called the statutes of limitations. The statute of limitations for most wage and hour violations is 3 years after the violation. Workers who miss the deadline will not be able to sue.
For most violations, workers must first file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office before filing in court. The time a worker spends waiting for the Attorney General to respond to the complaint does not count toward the 3 year deadline for suing after a violation.
Workers may want to check with a lawyer to confirm the deadline for their case.
Filing a Wage Complaint
To file a complaint, workers should fill out the appropriate complaint form. Workers do not need to file a complaint to sue for minimum wage or overtime violations.
- If the complaint is about not getting paid for hours worked, or other workplace rights, such as sick time or meal breaks, workers should file a Nonpayment of Wage and Workplace Complaint.
- For work that required payment of prevailing wages, workers should file a Prevailing Wage Complaint.
Workers or their attorneys should write in the comments section of the complaint that they are requesting a "private right of action."
After Filing the Complaint
Workers must wait 90 days after filing a complaint or receive a "private right of action" letter from our office before starting a lawsuit. Receiving this letter does not mean that the case will win or lose.
Where to File the Lawsuit
Depending on the amount of money involved in a case (damages or wages owed), a worker may file in Small Claims Court, District Court, or Superior Court.
- Small Claims Court: The small claims court is designed to provide a simple, informal and inexpensive procedure for resolving cases where the plaintiff (the person bringing the case) is seeking $7,000 or less. You may bring a small claim only in the court for the area where either you or your employer lives or has a place of business or employment. For more information: call (617) 788-8810 or visit the Small Claims Court website.
- District Court: The District Court judges make decisions in cases where the plaintiff is not likely to recover more than $25,000 in monetary damages. For more information: call (617) 788-8810 or visit the District Court website.
- Superior Court: The Superior Court decides cases where the plaintiff is seeking more than $25,000 in monetary damages, or cases involving labor disputes where the plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief. For more information: call (617) 788-8130 or visit the Superior Court website.
Finding a Lawyer
Going to court is complicated. Workers may want a lawyer to help with all or parts of their case. They may find a lawyer through a local legal services agency or a bar association.