Friday, November 4, 2011

Boston, Florida

There are any number of reasons not to have a business located in Massachusetts-the lousy weather, the Boston driving experience, the high taxes, the overregulated and pro-union employment law regime-you know, the whole blue state thing. So while companies are willing to have some element of their operations there, it makes sense for the the prudent employer to keep as many people on the outside of the Massachusetts state line as possible.

Imagine, then, the surprise and frustration of the employer in a recent Bay State court case that found itself defending claims under the Massachusetts Wage Act brought by an employee who lived in Florida, and based his sales operations for the company from his home there. He sued in Massachusetts Superior Court, alleging that his former employer owed him more than $100,000 in unpaid commissions and accrued vacation pay.

Although the company tried to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, sensibly arguing that the employee was not covered by Massachusetts law, a state judge found differently. Noting that the sales director had business cards that listed the corporate offices in Massachusetts for contact purposes, that the sales paperwork was sent to and from Massachusetts, and that the employee frequently traveled to Massachusetts to confer with the company representatives, the court determined that there were sufficient, contacts with the Commonwealth to allow application of Massachusetts law. The fact that the employee also frequently traveled to 30 other states where he had customers, and did not physically live or work in the state, was of no import.

This is a troubling result, for several reasons. Not the least among them--the Wage Act mandates treble damages and attorneys fees for successful plaintiffs.

Anyone with employees who consistently conduct business in Massachusetts should assess whether they may unintentionally subject themselves to the jurisdiction of Massachusetts state courts as a result. At the very least, it would be smart to take steps to minimize regular activity that involves contact with, or travel to Massachusetts, to avoid a similar claim.

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