Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has signed new law mandating increases in the state’s minimum wage to $11.00 an hour by January 1, 2017. 

The first of three raises, to $9.00 an hour, occurs January 1, 2015. The new law also mandates increases in tipped workers’ minimum cash wage to $3.00 an hour on January 1, 2015, and rising to $3.75 an hour on January 1, 2017. With this increase, Massachusetts will have one of the highest minimum wages in the country. Paying the proper minimum wage is especially important in Massachusetts as state law allows for mandatory treble damages and attorneys’ fees for failing to pay wages.

The Bay State’s hourly minimum wage for non-tipped workers, which has been $8.00 an hour since 2008, will increase as follows:

  • Beginning January 1, 2015, to $9.00.
  • Beginning January 1, 2016, to $10.00.
  • Beginning January 1, 2017, to $11.00.

Future minimum wage increases would not be automatically tied to inflation, as an earlier version of the proposal would have done.

Recognizing businesses’ concerns about the state’s unemployment insurance (“UI”) system, the new law freezes UI rates for three years beginning January 1, 2015, and changes the rating system to permit employers who lay off fewer workers to pay less into the UI system. 

In addition, the law has expanded the state’s council on the underground economy to 17 members from business, labor and government. The council, which aims to reduce wage theft and minimum wage and UI violations, will oversee more investigations and initiate more enforcement actions. It also will “facilitate timely information sharing among state agencies in order to advise or refer matters of potential investigative interest” and identify and target industries and sectors where it determines “the underground economy and employee classification are most prevalent,” among other things.

The new law also creates an occupational health and safety advisory board to write health and safety regulations for public employees, who are not covered by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. The new advisory board’s regulations will provide at least as much protection as the federal standards.

Several other states, including Delaware, Michigan and Minnesota, also have adopted increases this year. (See our articles, Delaware Minimum Wage Increases June 1, 2014, Michigan Minimum Wage Increases Enacted, and Minnesota Passes Minimum Wage Increases.)