he Maryland legislative session is nearly over for the year. One favorable bill clarifies the state’s wage payment and collection act to include overtime. Both houses have passed the bill, and it’s expected to be signed by Governor O’Malley.
The wage law helps employees enforce their rights to payment for their work. When there is no good faith dispute about the worker’s entitlement to the wages, a judge may triple the amount found to be owed, and award the employee reasonable attorney’s fees for taking the case to court. The policy behind the law is clear. When an employer withholds wages (and many such cases come up when the employer refuses to pay the last paycheck, apparently figuring that the employee will go away quietly), the employee should have an effective means of obtaining the compensation. Permitting additional damages and attorney’s fees are good incentives. In addition, the law penalizes the employer for holding back pay for no reason other than wage theft. On the other hand, if there is an actual dispute over the pay owed, or the amount of a commission, the employee cannot obtain the enhanced damages, but still has access to court.
Now the law will specifically include overtime pay as an element of the compensation that the employee may sue for. Not all courts had accepted the idea that compensation of any kind included overtime pay, so employees would sue under the Maryland law for unpaid straight-time wages or bonuses, and under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act for their overtime pay. This made the cases needlessly complicated. This may not change the reality that federal judges seem more likely to apply the correct burden of proof (it’s on the employer to show exemption from overtime), but it is a good clarifying law.