Massachusetts Court Discusses Petitions to Define Worker Classifications

Massachusetts employers are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries; however, independent contractors do not have the right to such benefits. Thus, a worker’s classification can impact their rights. However, it may not always be clear whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. A recent Massachusetts initiative seeks to clear up ambiguity regarding the rights of ride-share drivers, as discussed in a recent case. If you have questions about your rights with regard to benefits, it is smart to meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

It is alleged that in August 2023, a group of Massachusetts voters submitted petitions to the Attorney General seeking to establish that app-based drivers, such as those working for delivery or transportation network companies, should not be classified as employees. This classification would exclude them from the rights and protections granted to employees under Massachusetts General and Special Laws. Three of these petitions included provisions for minimum compensation, healthcare stipends, paid sick time, and occupational accident insurance, while the other two did not.

It is reported that the Attorney General certified that each petition met the requirements of Article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution and prepared summaries for them. Subsequently, another group of voters filed a mandamus action challenging the Attorney General’s certifications and summaries, arguing that the petitions did not meet the related subjects requirement and that the summaries were insufficient.

Petitions to Define Worker Classifications

The court reviewed the case to determine whether the Attorney General’s certification of the petitions and the corresponding summaries complied with Article 48. The court examined whether the petitions contained related subjects and if the summaries were fair and concise. The court noted that all five petitions aimed to define the relationship between drivers and companies, either by excluding drivers from being classified as employees under specific laws or by providing them with certain benefits while excluding them from other employee protections.

For the short-form petitions, the court found a clear common purpose of ensuring drivers were not classified as employees under specified laws, which was sufficiently coherent and operationally related for voters to make an informed decision. For the long-form petitions, which combined exclusion from employee classification with the provision of certain benefits, the court also found a common purpose of regulating the driver-company relationship. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims of prohibited “sweeteners” and logrolling, asserting that the benefits were related to the overall purpose of the petitions and were not concealed in complex language.

Regarding the Attorney General’s summaries, the court concluded they were fair and concise, accurately reflecting the petitions’ substance and organization. Although the summaries did not detail every implication of classifying drivers as nonemployees, the court ruled this level of detail was unnecessary for compliance with Article 48. The court emphasized that it was not the Attorney General’s role to provide exhaustive legal analysis or advocacy but to ensure voters received a fair overview of the petitions.

The court ultimately remanded the case to the county court for entry of a declaration affirming that the Attorney General’s certifications and summaries met the requirements of Article 48, while retaining jurisdiction to address any issues if more than one petition was placed on the November ballot.

Consult with a Committed Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

Massachusetts employers are obligated to offer workers’ compensation benefits to employees injured on the job, regardless of fault. If you have been hurt at work, it is wise to consult with a lawyer about the benefits you might be entitled to recover. Attorney James K. Meehan is a committed Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney with extensive experience assisting injured workers in safeguarding their rights. You can contact Attorney Meehan by using our online form or by calling him at 508-822-6600 to schedule a private consultation.