Under New Hampshire law, an employee may bring a wage claim against an employer to recover wages. This sometimes raises questions about whether certain employee compensation is “wages.”
WHAT ARE WAGES UNDER NEW HAMPSHIRE WAGE LAW?
The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently clarified that an employee’s bonus constitutes a wage, and that the employer must notify the employee in writing of any change to the employee’s bonus plan before the change takes effect.
In Clear ChoiceMD, PLLC v. Horace Henriques, M.D., the physician employee’s bonus plan, given him at the beginning of his employment, provided that he would earn bonus compensation if he exceeded a certain level of productivity. The employer later increased the level of productivity that the physician had to meet in order to qualify for a bonus, without giving the physician prior notice of this change in bonus eligibility requirements.
The physician filed a wage claim seeking unpaid bonus pay, liquidated damages and attorney’s fees. In a wage claim, liquidated damages may be awarded where an employer “willfully and without good cause fails to pay an employee wages,” in an amount equivalent to the lesser of: a.) 10 percent of the unpaid wages for each day except Sundays and legal holidays upon which the failure to pay wages continues; or b.) the amount of the unpaid wages owing. New Hampshire statutory law, RSA 275:53, authorizes a court to award reasonable attorney’s fees to an employee who prevails on a wage claim.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed a lower court Order awarding the physician unpaid bonus pay and attorney’s fees but declining to award liquidated damages. The Court found that the bonus constituted “wages,” defined by statute to include “compensation for labor or services rendered by an employee, whether the amount is determined on a time, task, piece, commission, or other basis of calculation.” “Because the bonus paid to the employee constituted a wage, the law required advance written notice of any change to the employee’s bonus prior to the effective date of the change,” the Court ruled. The Court further ruled that the physician was entitled to recover his attorney’s fees incurred both in the lower court and in the Supreme Court. The Court held, however, that the employer was not required to pay the physician liquidated damages, finding that the case had involved a “legitimate dispute” over whether unpaid bonus pay was owing, such that the employer could not be found to have failed to pay wages “willfully and without good cause.”
If you have a question about a potential New Hampshire wage claim, you should contact an experienced NH employment attorney such as Benjamin T. King at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. Attorney King has been ranked in the top 5 % of attorneys in New England representing employees in employment discrimination cases, continuously since 2014. Attorney King can be reached at (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.