By Bob Katzen

Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill to prevent wage theft by employers who, according to the bill’s supporters, steal $700 million of wages annually in Massachusetts from about 350,000 workers.

Wage theft includes paying below the minimum wage, neglecting to pay overtime and paying workers in cash to avoid paying taxes. Key provisions of the proposal make companies that contract with a subcontractor that withholds wages liable for those wages and empower the attorney general to issue a stop work order to employers committing wage theft and impose a penalty of up to $25,000.

“This bill returns workers’ hard-earned wages to them when they have been illegally underpaid or had their wages outright stolen by disreputable employers,” said Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow). “If an employer knew or should have known that workers were being denied their wages, this bill will provide recourse to the employee and penalize the employer.”

“Wage theft remains a major problem in Massachusetts, especially for the most vulnerable workers, like immigrants and low-income families,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “This legislation will help prevent and deter wage theft, ensure a level playing field for all employers, and protect the rights of working families.”

Although no one voted against the bill, some say said the bill unfairly punishes unknowing contractors for the illegal actions of their subcontractors. They said it is unfair and anti-business to require companies to police the payroll of their subcontractors.

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