Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why The Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law Benefits Commissioned Employees: The Fourth Circuit Rejects Virginia Employee's Claim to Commissions

The Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law grants employees a special right: once an employee earns wages or benefits and employer cannot impose arbitrary conditions that require the employer to forfeit those wages. This issue arises most often with: (1) accrued vacation (see here and here); and (2) commissions earned but not paid before an employee's termination (see here, and here). Once an employee does the work to earn the commissions or accrued vacation, an employer cannot take those benefits away.

Why is this important? The law is very different and less favorable to employees in other states. Take for example, Jensen v. IBM, a decision issued by the Fourth Circuit yesterday. Applying Virginia Law, the Court interpreted a provision in an employee's compensation plan. The plan stated: "No one becomes entitled to any payment in advance of his or her receipt of the payment." In other words, IBM reserved the right to change the terms of the plan up until the point that it decided to pay the commissions. The Court found this language (as well as other clauses in the plan) "did not invite a bargain or manifest a "'willingness to enter into a bargain.'"

I am quite confident that this portion of Jensen would have been decided differently had the Court applied the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, rather than Virginia state law. Maryland employers cannot change the terms of a plan or require an employee to forfeit compensation once the employee has earned the compensation.

(Note: there are other aspects of Jensen not discussed here that indicate that the Court was correct in deciding that the employee was not entitled to the commission he was seeking.)

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