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Wage Payment And Collection Law Does Not Apply To Unearned Wages

In Ely v. Susquehanna Aquacultures, Inc., 2015 Pa. Super. 247 (November 25, 2015), the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the Wage Payment and Collection Law (“WPCL”) could not be used to collect unearned, future wages in a breach of contract action.

The WPCL provides a mechanism for employees to recover unpaid wages from employers. Cases have held that the goal of the WPCL is to make employees whole when wages are wrongfully withheld from them.

In this case, Ely had an employment contract for a period of two years. He was terminated from employment with several months left on his contract. Ely claimed that he should be paid under the WPCL for all remaining wages that could have been paid under the employment contract, even though after his termination he did not perform any further work to earn wages.

Ely’s argument for recovery rested on the WPCL’s language defining “wages” to include, among other things, “any other amount to be paid pursuant to an agreement to the employe.” The court held that, despite the broad language, this provision did not include any entitlement to recover unearned, future wages. The court pointed to the fact that other provisions of the WPCL do not contemplate any entitlement to the recovery of future wages.

While lower courts and federal courts previously held that the WPCL does not allow for the recovery of future wages, Ely marks the first time a Pennsylvania appellate court has so held. While Ely appealed this ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, on March 29, 2016, declined to allow the appeal. Attorney Jim Thomas of our firm handled this matter on behalf of the employer.

What Does This Mean For You? The WPCL allows for liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees in addition to recovery of wages. If Ely had been successful, any employee bringing a claim for wages stemming from the breach of an employment contract would have been able to recover liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees under the WPCL, even if the employment contract contained no such provision.

If you have any questions about this or any other employment or labor law issue, please contact Whitney Rahman at (717) 509-7237 or swr@blakingerthomas.com.

**This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as
creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist**