The Law @ Work

Recent Legislation in Massachusetts Affects Employers

In the waning days of the legislative session, the Massachusetts legislature passed two bills that will have impact on employers:

Contingent Workers

A new statute will require staffing agencies to provide temporary workers with more information regarding their employment status.  On August 6, Governor Deval Patrick signed H. 4304, the “Temporary Workers Right to Know Act,”  into law, amending Mass. Gen. L. ch. 149, §159C.  The statute mandates that staffing agencies provide workers with written notice of the agency’s name, its workers compensation carrier, and the name of the worksite employer.  The law also requires that the staffing agency give the temporary workers a description of the job to which they are being assigned and a statement of any costs for clothing and equipment that they will be responsible for providing at the assigned job site.  Temporary workers will also be entitled to written notice of their rate of pay, payday, starting and ending times, and the expected length of their assignment.  Staffing agencies will be prohibited from charging workers for registering with the agency, for the cost of any criminal background check that might be required by the company to which they are assigned, or for any other goods or services that might cause their pay to fall below the minimum wage.  Staffing agencies and worksite employers will be permitted to charge for financial transactions, drug screenings, or transportation to the job, but no more than the actual cost of those services.  Transportation to the job site cannot exceed 3% of the employee’s daily pay.

Professional, administrative, and secretarial employees are exempted from the new law.  The state Department of Labor will be responsible for issuing implementing regulations on the new statute, which takes effect in January 2013 and will affect an estimated 25,000 temporary workers in the state.

New Health Law Bans Mandatory Overtime for Hospital Nurses

On the same day that he signed H. 4304 into law, Governor Patrick also signed a new health care cost containment bill that includes a ban on requiring nurses to work overtime, the common practice among hospitals in Massachusetts.  The provision, an amendment to Mass. Gen. L. ch. 111, was part of the major health care cost reform measure passed by the Massachusetts legislature in the waning days of the legislative session.  The relevant language in the statute says that hospitals in Massachusetts “shall not require a nurse to work mandatory overtime except in the case of an emergency situation where the safety of the patient requires its use and when there is no reasonable alternative.”  Mandatory overtime is defined as hours beyond a nurse’s predetermined, regular schedule, and in no case may the nurse’s regularly-scheduled hours exceed 12 in a 24-hour period.  Even in the event of an emergency exception to the prohibition against overtime, a nurse may not work more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period, and any nurse who works 16 consecutive hours must be given eight consecutive hours off before his/her next shift.  The Massachusetts Nurses Association lobbied hard for the inclusion of the provision in the health care cost reform legislation, claiming that mandatory overtime is “indefensible” by any patient safety standard and that hospitals had been increasing mandatory overtime in anticipation of the cost controls that are part of the reform measure.  The union argued that this measure would protect patients and save money by preventing mistakes, errors and complications resulting from RNs being forced to work excessive hours.

If you have any questions about these amendments, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.

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