Author Archives: Alexandra Deal

Non-Compete Reform Comes to Massachusetts

By on August 30, 2018

     After years of trying to find common ground on non-compete reform, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill – which Governor Charlie Baker signed into law on August 10, 2018 – that promises to significantly change the employment landscape in the Commonwealth. The new law will take effect on October 1, 2018.

The following is a brief, non-exhaustive overview of some of the law’s most notable features:

  • The law defines a non-competition agreement as an “agreement between an employer and an employee, or otherwise arising out of an existing or anticipated employment relationship, under which the employee or expected employee agrees that the employee will not engage in certain specified activities competitive with the employee’s employer after the employment relationship has ended,” but excludes certain agreements from its purview, including: (1) non-compete agreements made in connection with the sale of a business; (2) non-compete agreements made in connection with the cessation or separation of employment (provided the employee is given seven business days to rescind acceptance); (3) employee non-solicitation covenants; (4) customer/client/vendor non-solicitation covenants; and (5) non-disclosure of confidential information agreements.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Both traditional employees and independent contractors are covered under the law.                                                                                                                                                                                              
  • All agreements must be in writing and signed by both parties, and must expressly affirm an employee’s right to consult with counsel before signing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • If a non-compete agreement is signed at the beginning of an employment relationship, it must be given to the employee when the employment offer is made or 10 days before the commencement of employment, whichever is earlier.  Agreements signed after the commencement of employment must be “supported by fair and reasonable consideration independent from the continuation of employment.”                                                                                
  • The law requires so-called “garden leave pay” or some “other mutually agreed-upon consideration.” Garden leave pay refers to an agreement in which the employer, during the course of the restricted period, continues to pay the former employee at least 50 percent of the “highest annualized base salary” that employee received within the two years preceding his or her termination. The law does not further define or elaborate upon what “other consideration” might be acceptable in lieu of garden leave pay, however.  In addition, it remains to be seen whether garden leave pay constitutes sufficient consideration for those non-competes executed after the commencement of an employment relationship, or whether some consideration above and beyond the garden leave pay is required in those circumstances.                                                                                                                                                  
  • Agreements not to compete must be “reasonable.” They can be no broader than necessary to protect a legitimate business interest; they cannot exceed one year in duration; their geographic scope must be reasonable; and they must otherwise be reasonable “in the scope of proscribed activities in relation to the interests protected.”                                                   
  • Non-compete agreements may not be enforced against non-exempt employees; undergraduate or graduate students engaged in short-term employment; employees who have been terminated without cause or laid off; or employees who are 18 years old or younger.                                                                                                                                                      

These new requirements apply only to non-compete agreements entered into on or after October 1, 2018. Nevertheless, employers may wish to revise existing non-compete agreements for current employees in order to avoid disparities amongst employees, as well as potential future litigation.

 

 

Show Me the (Same Amount of) Money!

By on June 21, 2018

The state’s new pay equity law, which amends the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (“MEPA”), will take effect on July 1, 2018.  It is one of the strongest pay equity laws in the country, and subjects employers to double damages and attorneys’ fees in the event of a violation.  Moreover, it is a “strict liability” statute.  Thus, whether or not an employer intends to discriminate against employees of one gender is “irrelevant” to the analysis.

The amendments prohibit employers from, among other things:

• Paying different wages to people of different genders who perform “comparable work,” unless the difference in salary is attributable to one (or more) of six enumerated statutory factors;

• Asking job applicants about their wage or salary history;

• Decreasing the wages of an employee solely to close the wage gap;

• Retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under MEPA.

The revisions also establish a safe harbor provision for employers who perform self-evaluations of their pay practices.

What Does “Comparable Work” Mean?

MEPA defines “comparable work” as work that “requires substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility” that is performed under similar working conditions.  Employers should not assume that a job title, or even a job description, necessarily determines comparability.  In fact, employees need not even be in the same business unit or department in order have “comparable” jobs.  Notably, this is a broader definition than the “equal work” standard under federal law.

Even if employees are in comparable roles, however, employers are permitted to pay them different salaries if the difference is based on of one (or more) of the following factors:

• A seniority system (as long as seniority is not affected by pregnancy, parental or family leave);
• A merit system;
• A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue;
• The geographic location in which a job is performed;
• Education, training, or experience, as long as these factors are reasonably related to the job in question; and
• Travel that is a regular and necessary part of the job.

What Employers Should Know About the Safe Harbor Provision

In order to trigger the safe harbor provision, which establishes an affirmative defense against liability for claims of pay discrimination, an employer must have conducted a “reasonable and good faith” pay audit within the previous three years (and before an employee files an action), and must demonstrate that it is making “reasonable progress” towards eliminating wage differentials across genders.

Self-evaluations not only help employers identify and rectify wage gaps, they guard against liquidated damages in the event of a judgment against the employer, even if the evaluation was not “reasonable” in detail and scope.

Guidance for Employers

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has issued a Guidance that addresses the amendments.  While the Guidance does not have legal force, it is a useful compliance tool and a good place to start if you have basic questions about how to ensure you are compensating your employees equally across genders for “comparable work.”  However, employers should bear in mind that “the complexity of the analysis required will vary significantly depending on the size, make-up, and resources of each employer”; the Guidance does not, and cannot, address the many fact-specific situations that may arise at any given place of employment.

In addition to the Guidance, the AG’s Office has generated a “Pay Calculation Tool” to help employers identify and evaluate gender-based pay gaps.  Smaller employers with clearly defined groupings of comparable jobs and relatively simply pay structures may benefit from using the tool, at least as a first step; it is not appropriate for large pay groups or complicated pay structures.  Furthermore, the data the tool generates may be discoverable in litigation or government investigations, so employers should consult with counsel before conducting any self-evaluation.

“Ban-the-Box” Update for Employers

By on May 21, 2018

Since 2010, employers in Massachusetts have been prohibited, under the Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) Reform Act, from requiring a job applicant to check a box indicating that he or she has a criminal history (the “ban-the-box” law).  Employers are also prohibited from requiring applicants and employees to disclose certain criminal information, including arrests and criminal cases that did not result in a conviction; first convictions for various misdemeanor offenses; misdemeanor convictions where the date of conviction or release from incarceration occurred five or more years prior to the date of the employment application (in the absence of an intervening conviction); juvenile records; and sealed criminal records.

Under new amendments to the CORI Reform Act signed by Governor Baker on April 13, 2018, and slated to take effect on October 13, 2018, employers may not inquire into misdemeanor convictions where the date of the conviction occurred three or more years from the date of the application (unless there was an intervening conviction).  In addition, employers may not ask applicants about “a criminal record, or anything related to a criminal record, that has been sealed or expunged . . . .”  Finally, employers must include the following statement on any application “which seeks information concerning prior arrests or conviction of the applicant”: “An applicant for employment with a record expunged pursuant to section 100F, section 100G, section 100H or section 100K of chapter 276 of the General Laws may answer ‘no record’ with respect to an inquiry herein relative to prior arrests, criminal court appearances or convictions. An applicant for employment with a record expunged pursuant to section 100F, section 100G, section 100H or section 100K of chapter 276 of the General Laws may answer ‘no record’ to an inquiry herein relative to prior arrests, criminal court appearances, juvenile court appearances, adjudications or convictions.”

Employers are advised to take note of these important changes and revise their applications, and application processes, accordingly.

Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Takes Effect

By on April 25, 2018

As of April 1, 2018, all Massachusetts employers with six (6) or more employees are subject to the state’s new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (the “Act”).

In light of the pre-existing federal law in this area, what is most notable about the Act is that it requires covered employers to provide:

• non-exempt and exempt employees with reasonable breaks and an appropriately private place to express breast milk;
• written notice to their employees regarding the rights provided under the Act; and
• reasonable accommodation(s) to employees on the basis of pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.

Reasonable accommodations may include thing like frequent or longer breaks, light duty, or a modified work schedule.

It is unlawful to retaliate against employees for requesting such an accommodation. Likewise, employers cannot deny an employment opportunity to an employee if the denial is based on the employer’s knowledge that it would have to provide the employee a reasonable accommodation, nor can an employer refuse to hire someone on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, provided that person can perform the job (with a reasonable accommodation, if necessary).

Employers must provide the required written notice in a handbook, pamphlet, or other appropriate form to:

• current employees on or before the effective date of the Act;
• a newly-hired employee at the time of his or her hire; and
• any employee who notifies the employer of a pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, within 10 days of such notice.

Employers may satisfy the written notice requirement using the two-page Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Guidance published in part for this purpose by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The MCAD has also published a helpful Q&A regarding the Act.  Should you have questions concerning compliance with the Act or other matters, speak with an experienced employment attorney.