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Harvard Puts Massage Therapists on Staff to Settle Class Action

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By George Khoury, Esq. on March 19, 2018 3:54 PM

It is not every day that an employer can settle a class action employment lawsuit by putting a group of massage therapists on staff, but that's just how Harvard gets things done.

However, before you start thinking that demanding massage therapists will get your lawsuit settled, it should be noted that this class action was filed on behalf of a group of individuals that worked at Harvard, but were improperly classified as independent contractors rather than employees under state law. In addition to being reclassified as employees, the class members will receive up to $30K in back pay for unpaid benefits, as well as be considered part of the university employee union.

Massaging Justice

For an increasing section of the workforce, working as an independent contractor presents very real concerns. In addition to licensing fees, insurance or bonding, and other trade related costs, independent contractors also don't get vacation, sick, or health benefits. And for the former Harvard independent contractor massage therapists (and acupuncturists) in the Wellness Center, they were also denied the characteristic right of independent contractors to exercise independent control of their work, as they had their schedules managed, and were prohibited from receiving tips.

The settlement at Harvard came after hard fought litigation and discovery. The attorney representing the class, a Harvard alum, and well known for her impactful work on behalf of gig-economy workers, Shannon Liss-Riordan, stated that she was pleased with the settlement.

She believes that the settlement may have big impact for other employees. Liss-Riordan also believes that Harvard's willingness to actually reclassify the employees is uncharacteristic for defendants (who usually will pay any amount of money to avoid having to actually reclassify), and a really good move for the institution. She's holding Harvard out as an example for what other employers should do when caught misclassifying employees: Reclassify the misclassified.

The settlement included a provision that the university would revise not just the independent contractor policy in their wellness center where massage therapists and acupuncturists work, but also university-wide.

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