The Circuit Court erred in its application of the Maryland Wage Payment and Collections Law (WPCL) when it declined to award Appellant Muriel Peters treble damages after Appellee Early Healthcare Giver, Inc.’s (EHCG) illegally withheld her earned overtime wages. Md. Code Ann. Lab. & Empl. § 3-507.2(b). Treble damages are available to plaintiffs under the WPCL in order to deter employers from violating minimum wage and hour standards; to reduce the costs associated with public enforcement and private litigation; as well as to fully compensate workers for the collateral economic consequences they may experience when their wages are illegally withheld.
If Maryland courts continue to ignore the statutory language of the WPCL and decline to award treble damages awards in wage theft cases, as the lower court did here, such actions will eviscerate the power of the WPCL and send a strong message to unscrupulous employers, including home care agencies, that they may violate this law at little or no cost, thus completely undermining the intent of the Maryland General Assembly. This appeal presents the Court with an opportunity to affirm the critical role that treble damages play in wage theft cases, and to uphold the state’s promise of protection to Maryland workers by enforcing the WPCL vigorously, equitably, and accurately.
Robust enforcement and its deterrent and compensatory effects are especially important in low-wage industries like home care, in which Appellant is employed. Tens of thousands of Maryland residents depend on home care workers to help get them out of bed in the morning, prepare their meals, and transport them safely to the doctor. But these workers often cannot rely on getting paid for their important work. As a result, morale is low, turnover is high, and all those who depend on or expect to depend on their services suffer. Awarding Ms. Peters the full amount of treble damages allowed under the WPCL is a crucial step towards ensuring greater employer accountability and baseline standards. Such an award would also serve to stabilize the home care industry so it can deliver a decent livelihood to workers and quality home care services to the people of Maryland, and would uphold the Maryland General Assembly’s intent when it passed and amended the WPCL.