Massachusetts News & Analysis

  • When is nonsolicitation agreement enforceable? MA court weighs in

    Last Fall, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law governing the enforceability of noncompetition agreements between employers and employees. It retained certain aspects of the existing law, as it had been developed by the courts over the years, but also made major changes designed to reduce employer reliance on noncompetes and to level the playing field when they are used.

  • IRS authorizes more preventive services to be paid by HSA-eligible health plans

    The IRS recently issued guidance expanding the definition of "preventive care" that may be covered—possibly free of charge—by a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) that's paired with a health savings account (HSA). While the changes made by the guidance are relatively simple, they have the potential to make HSAs substantially more attractive, particularly to employees who have a chronic condition that is controlled by medication or therapy. Before diving too far into the details, however, it's important to have a solid understanding of HSAs and how they work.

  • All employers should learn from the Wayfair walkout

    Employers, especially unionized ones, are familiar with strikes, which labor unions and the employees they represent use to pressure employers. Strikes can be costly for employers. For example, in April 2019, employees at Stop & Shop went on strike for just 10 days, but the company claims it lost $345 million in net sales as a result.

  • Even when MA employer wins, lessons can be learned

    HR employees know decisions at work and in court are often made based on credibility. Decision makers consider body language and consistency, as well as whether any documentation exists supporting one person's version of events over another's.
    A recent Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) decision highlights how important documentation was to support a witness' credibility. The commission found an employer wasn't liable for retaliatory termination based largely on the "ample evidence of performance problems that predated the [harassment complaint]."

  • Association retirement plans may not be ready for primetime

    The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently finalized regulations allowing multiple employers to offer a retirement plan to their employees through a combined association retirement plan (ARP). In what is becoming a common theme for the agency under President Donald Trump, the new rules are intended to make it easier for small to mid-sized employers to offer such plans to their employees. While they are similar to rules finalized last year that established a new type of association health plan, they go even further by establishing guidelines for professional employer organizations (PEOs) to sponsor retirement plans for their members' employees. Unfortunately, they also may face some of the same problems as those rules, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

  • Union Activity

    Miners' union invites presidential candidates to go underground. The international president of the United Mine Workers of America in July sent letters to all the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president inviting them to go to a union coal mine and go underground. Cecil E. Roberts said coal miners want to know that those running for president "have some understanding of what they do and why they do it." Roberts sent the letter at a time when the sector of the coal industry that produces steam coal, used as fuel for electricity generation, is under stress. Coal-fired power plants are disappearing, with 289 closing since 2010 and 50 since January 2017. A statement from the union said most Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed the Green New Deal or offered similar plans that would hasten the closure of coal-fired power plants and the mines that feed them. Roberts said the candidates "owe it to these workers to meet them face to face, tell them their plans, and then just listen."

  • Workplace Trends

    Texting gaining popularity in hiring process. More employers and job candidates are using texting as a communication method, according to research from Robert Half Technology. More than two-thirds (67%) of IT decision makers surveyed said their organization uses texting as one way of coordinating interviews with job candidates. Nearly half (48%) of U.S. workers polled in a similar survey said they've received a text message from a potential employer. When asked about the greatest advantage of texting during the hiring process, quick communication was the top response among IT managers and workers. They also acknowledged the greatest drawback was the possibility of miscommunication.

  • MA imposes additional obligations on employers that experience data breaches

    Even companies that you would expect to have highly sophisticated data protection systems remain vulnerable to breaches. Just last year, for instance, Facebook discovered a security issue that permitted hackers to access information that could have allowed them to take over more than 50 million accounts. Consistent with the ever-growing issue of cybersecurity, employers' obligations under Massachusetts' data breach law have recently been expanded to provide additional protections for people whose information may have gotten into the hands of the wrong person.

  • Mexican standoff: Can employee take a vacation from his leave of absence?

    As New Englanders, we know that a March vacation to a locale with warmer weather can be good for the body and the soul. Of course, there's a right way and a right time to take vacation. In a recent case, an employer determined that taking vacation while on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave was the wrong way and the wrong time. But that decision turned out to be a costly one for the employer.

  • Individual coverage HRAs probably not option for 2020

    On his very first day in office, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order instructing federal agencies to lessen the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) burden on the organizations and individuals who were subject to its requirements. More than two years later, the ACA is limping along, but the Trump administration is still working to carry out that order.