The Defense Against Abusive Waivers Act (“DAAWA”), filed by Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford) and Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) was recommended for approval by a unanimous vote of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development last week, with only one member of the committee, Keiko Orall (R-Lakeville) withholding her vote.
DAAWA will render unenforceable certain waivers new employees are forced to sign at the commencement of employment as a condition of their jobs. These waivers include the right to bring suit in court, or an administrative agency, for sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination or unpaid wages. They also include procedural waivers such as the requirement insisted upon by employers that any claim that is filed must commence in the location of the employer’s home office, which in the case of national companies with a Massachusetts presence may be as remote as Arizona, California or Nevada.
“This bill gives important protection to the workers of the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Gordon. “It addresses situations where employers have essentially opted-out of Massachusetts employment law. They approach citizens of Massachusetts at a particularly vulnerable time, when they are first hired at a new job – often at the end of a long and frustrating period of unemployment. The worker is focused on one issue and one issue alone, obtaining a new job and the paycheck it provides. The worker will sign what he is told in order to commence the job. Even if the worker understands and does not want to waive these important rights, the worker has no leverage to withhold his signature or the job will be taken away.”
Gordon explained that the Act does not do away with voluntary arbitration agreements. “Parties are still free to bring claims to arbitration rather than court in the employment context. But they have to be fair, with each side having equal right to say no.”
Gordon was proud of the progress of DAAWA, one of the first bills he filed as a freshman legislator. Only an average of 15 percent of bills are approved by committee, less for first-year representatives. “It’s quite a thrill for this bill to receive this reception” he said. “I am proud the committee saw the importance of the rights this bill will provide to workers of Massachusetts.”
The bill will head to the Senate floor, where it will be debated and voted upon, before being returned to the House for a separate vote. If the bodies agree with the Joint Committee and vote in favor of the bill, assuming no amendments, it will head to the governor’s desk for approval.