Employment Impact Advocacy
The Employment Law Unit’s main areas of impact advocacy fall into the following broad categories:
Protecting Jobs and Families: Earned Sick Time and Parental Leave
The GBLS Law Employment Unit represented the Coalition for Social Justice in its successful campaign, with other leaders of Raise Up Massachusetts, to secure job protected sick time for almost one million workers in Massachusetts. The law, passed by a 60-40 vote of the electorate on November 4, 2014, is the most progressive statewide sick time law in the nation. The law takes effect on July 1, 2015, and guarantees every worker in Massachusetts access to the benefit of earned sick time, and prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off due to illness. At companies with 10 or fewer employees, workers will earn up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time to visit the doctor or take care of a sick family member. At companies with 11 or more employees, workers will earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time.
This decade-long effort will ensure that workers do not have to choose between their jobs and their health (or that of their families) when illness strikes. Earned sick time will help small businesses succeed by making employees healthier and more productive, and will keep money in the hands of consumers who spend it in their neighborhoods, helping grow our local economies. For the almost one million, mostly low-wage workers in Massachusetts who lack access to a single day of paid sick time, this campaign is a major victory.
In another effort to protect working parents from having to choose between their jobs and their families, the Employment Law Unit successfully advocated -- on behalf of the Coalition for Social Justice and the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition -- for a bill amending parents’ rights to unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child. GBLS’s efforts were integral to passage of the law, sponsored by then Representative and now Mayor Marty Walsh, which expands parental leave rights.
An Act Relative to Parental Leave replaces the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act law and makes it gender-neutral.The law also: (1) clarifies that leave applies to employees who have completed a probationary period not longer than 3 months, (2) requires the employee to provide the employer with 2 weeks’ notice, but now permits notice as soon as practicable if the delay in providing it is beyond the employee’s control, (3) clarifies that employees on leave for their child’s adoption have the same entitlement to leave as employees on leave for their child’s birth, and (4) expands notice requirements.
The law addresses the unfairness of a Supreme Judicial Court decision in which the Court ruled that even though a housekeeper had asked for and received permission from her employer for 10 weeks’ maternity leave, the employee unknowingly lost her rights to job protection because her leave had been extended beyond the 8 weeks. She could not return to her job when she attempted to do so after her 10th week of leave. The new law simply requires employers to inform employees in writing prior to their leave if taking leave beyond 8 weeks destroys their right to return to work.
Improving the Unemployment Benefits System for Low-Wage Workers and Increasing the Minimum Wage
The Employment Law Unit (EU) has long taken a leading role in strengthening the Massachusetts unemployment benefits system to help low-income workers during periods of joblessness. The EU works to reform the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system on behalf of low-wage workers through legislative advocacy as well as through direct advocacy with the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA).
The efforts of the EU along with several advocacy coalitions and bill supporters led to the passage of An Act Restoring the Minimum Wage and Providing Unemployment Insurance Reforms in June 2014. Three UI important reforms were secured including improved access to unemployment benefits and protections against retaliation for participating in the unemployment system, including testifying at an unemployment hearing. The bill is also the highest minimum wage law in the country that will benefit over 600,000 low-wage earners. The next step in this effort is to ensure implementation of these changes.
In addition to legislative advocacy, the Employment Law Unit also works to improve the unemployment benefits system through direct advocacy with the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) to improve access to -- and eligibility for --- unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for all low-wage workers.
The EU has also been working with DUA to address major problems generated by their new automated system UI Online. GBLS obtained many important changes including the hiring of a readability expert.
Finally, the EU engages in systemic litigation to ensure full access to unemployment benefits for unemployed low-wage workers. Successes include settlements that substantially expand notices to claimants in their primary languages, are leading to more individuals who have a short or erratic work history becoming eligible for federal extended benefits at no cost to the state or to employers, and the number of DUA’s false findings of UI fraud against claimants going down dramatically.
Combatting 'Wage Theft' through Stronger Wage Enforcement and Laws
The Employment Unit engages in both legislative and administrative advocacy to strengthen the wage laws and their enforcement, in order to protect workers who have been victims of “wage theft.” The Employment Unit represents and works closely with the immigrants’ and workers’ rights community-based and advocacy organizations that are members of the Massachusetts Fair Wage Campaign coalition. This coalition meets regularly with the Office of the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. We advocate for ongoing changes to strengthen wage enforcement, including improved access to wage enforcement for immigrant and limited English proficient workers, strategic or systemic enforcement with particular employers or in particular industries, the use of new tools and approaches for decreasing employer retaliation against workers, and prioritization of cases important to particular communities or groups.
In the legislative arena, the Employment Unit represents members of the Massachusetts Fair Wage Campaign in an effort to pass a bill (“An Act Establishing Uniform Wage Compliance and Recordkeeping”) that would strengthen the wage laws by extending the statute of limitations for minimum wage and overtime claims from two years to three years and that would toll the statute of limitations on wage claims while complaints are pending with the Office of the Attorney General. We also engage in legislative advocacy to defend against efforts to weaken the Massachusetts wage laws by decreasing damages available to workers or exempting employers from coverage under the wage laws. The Employment Unit also submits amicus briefs on behalf of community-based organizations in important appellate cases affecting the wage rights of low-wage workers, including recent cases involving employer deductions from wages and the damages available to misclassified janitorial workers under the Massachusetts independent contractor law.
Advocating for Rights for Workers in Temporary Jobs
The Employment Law Unit represents community-based organizations as part of the REAL (Reform Employment Agency Laws) coalition’s campaign to update the employment agency laws to include regulation of temporary agencies. This resulted in the successful passage of the Temporary Workers’ Right to Know Law that protects low-wage workers in temporary jobs from abuses.
The bill requires temp agencies to provide written notice to workers of key information such as the name of the agency, the worksite employer, a description of the work to be performed and the wage rate. It also provides workers with information on how to contact the appropriate enforcement agency if they believe their rights are being violated and about their right to workers’ compensation in the event of an injury on the job. The passage of this bill has brought much-needed oversight of temporary agencies including day labor and other fly-by-night agencies that too often exploit and abuse low-wage workers.
Protecting Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Basic Workplace Rights
The Employment Law Unit represented its client, the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers, in a successful campaign to secure A Bill Establishing the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, Chapter 148 of the Acts of 2014, which Governor Deval Patrick signed into law on July 2014. This new law is a huge victory for Massachusetts domestic workers, who are now afforded basic labor protections. The collaboration between Employment Unit Lead Attorney Monica Halas and campaign cofounders Natalicia Tracy, Executive Director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center and a GBLS Board Member, Monique Nguyen, Executive Director of Matahari, Magalis Troncoso, Executive Director of the Dominican Development Center and a GBLS Board Member, Heloisa Galvao, Executive Director of the Brazilian Women’s Group, campaign coordinator Lydia Edwards, a GBLS Equal Justice Works Fellow since fall 2014, and domestic workers led to this achievement.
Implementing CORI Reform
Since the 2010 legislative victory reforming the CORI system, the Employment Unit has continued to work on CORI reform through systemic advocacy and litigation aimed at creating positive caselaw in the area of CORI-sealing. Recent successes have included advocating for a pilot project in Boston Municipal Court to establish a streamlined process in CORI-sealing cases and for a Roxbury District Court protocol to improve processing of CORI-sealing cases, both of which minimize the hardship to individuals and promote judicial economy. We are currently advocating to ensure that CORI-sealing petitions cannot be denied without a hearing.
We also are developing systemic litigation aimed at overturning court rulings that currently negatively impact individuals with criminal records, as many of these decisions are outdated and were litigated before CORI checks became a routine hiring practice and/or mandated for certain jobs, as well as before CORI-based restrictions emerged in housing, credit, and other areas.