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Court of Appeals looks at Maryland Wage Payment law

The Court of Appeals recently took an opportunity to take a look at Maryland’s Wage Payment and Collection Law. That law has a particularly interesting aspect: it can triple damages in some cases and result in a plaintiff also receiving attorneys’ fees.

The law can be applicable when a Maryland employer doesn’t pay earned wages in a timely manner (including overtime wages). The WPCL allows a court to award to the worker up to three times their unpaid wages, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs if the wages weren’t withheld because of a “bona fide dispute.”

The Appeals Court said the first thing that must be sorted out in these conflicts is for the employee to prove to a trial court that the incident was indeed a violation of the WPCL. If the employee and their attorney does that successfully, the next step in the process is to determine whether the withholding of pay was because of a bona fide dispute.

Here, the burden of proof is on the employer. After all, it was the employer’s decision to withhold pay, so it’s up to them to explain their reasons for doing so. What’s a “bona fide dispute”? The Appeals Court has a long and somewhat complicated explanation, but its essence is that an employer needs to have a legitimate reason for denying wages rather than doing it simply because it fattens the company’s bottom line.

Also, it won’t do for the employer to claim that they forgot to pay wages or that they made a mistake or that they were ignorant of wage laws. None of those excuses will qualify as a “bona fide dispute.”

As for the tripling of damages, the Appeals Court said this might be appropriate in some situations in which no bona fide dispute exists, but that a trial court is not required to treble damages. A trial court “may” do so, but it’s not mandated.

Legal terms and employment laws are often complex, which is why anyone contemplating pursuing a claim against their employer should sit down first with an experienced attorney and discuss the specifics of the matter.

Source: JD Supra Business Advisor, "Court of Appeals Rejects Mandatory Treble Damages Under Wage Payment and Collection Law," Brett Buckwalter, August 19, 2014

Source: JD Supra Business Advisor, "Court of Appeals Rejects Mandatory Treble Damages Under Wage Payment and Collection Law," Brett Buckwalter, August 19, 2014

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