Treble Damages and Attorneys’ Fees under the Massachusetts Wage Act

The right to get paid your wages is extraordinarily strong, even if you’re mislabeled as an independent contractor. The reason for this is the Massachusetts Wage Act and the fact that it provides for mandatory treble damages and attorneys’ fees for successful claims for unpaid salary, bonuses, commissions, vacation pay, and the like. The Massachusetts Overtime Law does the same for those entitled to overtime.

Treble damages: This is a fancy way of saying triple damages. If you’re owed $5,000, once you bring a formal complaint, the law says you’re owed $15,000. Prior to a change in the law in July 2008, it was necessary to show that the employer willfully violated the Wage Act in failing to pay the wages in question. This was not always ensured and created substantial risk for the wage plaintiff. Now, there is no requirement of willfulness and a employer cannot introduce evidence that the failure to pay was simply a mistake. Importantly, the right to treble damages arises only after a complaint is filed in court. That is because of this language in MGL c. 149, s. 150:

The defendant shall not set up as a defence [sic] a payment of wages after the bringing of the complaint.

Even if the case is ultimately settled for less than three times the wages, treble damages creates a very strong motivation to contact a lawyer and get a complaint filed in court as soon as possible. Many employees lose out on multiple damages by negotiating themselves with their former employers. We are Boston wage lawyers, and it’s easy to reach us at 617-338-9400 or by email to