On Wednesday, the Maine legislature passed LD 1711, “An Act To Enhance Enforcement of Employment Laws.” Now heading to the Governor’s desk for her signature, the bill would allow private attorneys to bring lawsuits on the state’s behalf against employers who violate state labor law. Currently, workers who have been abused by their employers must rely on action from underfunded state agencies like the Department of Labor and the Maine Human Rights Commission.
The concept of “private right of action” in labor law enforcement has been pioneered in California with a decades old law known as the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). Experience shows that PAGA has been successful in helping workers recover lost wages and collect damages for numerous forms of workplace violations.
LD 1711 would help Mainers combat a number of incredibly-common violations of their workplace rights:
- Wage theft costs Mainers more than $30 million every year.
- Misclassification of workers as independent contractors is thought to impact 10 to 30 percent of all private-sector employees.
- Unsafe working conditions, exposed as all-too-common by the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Multiple forms of discrimination, found by Maine Center for Economic Policy to impact tens of thousands of Maine workers.
- Sexual harassment, encountered at work by nearly half of Mainers.
The current enforcement mechanisms available to workers are inadequate. The state and federal agencies tasked with enforcing the laws are underfunded and understaffed and often don’t have the resources to promptly pursue worker cases.
What’s more, employers increasingly adopt forced arbitration agreements that limit an employee’s ability to seek redress. This means many employees can’t sue their employer directly. But courts have ruled that state enforcement — or enforcement through laws like PAGA — is not bound by forced arbitration agreements. Passage of LD 1711 would end the harm caused by forced arbitration agreements with workers.
The bill now goes to Governor Mills for her signature. Mainers should contact the Governor and ask her to sign the bill and protect Maine workers from workplace violations.