It pays to punctuate properly. Period.

It pays to punctuate properly. Period.

Despite what you might think after receiving your friend’s 22 texts with nary a period between sentences, punctuation still matters today. In fact, a recent lesson in proper punctuation may cost one New England company an estimated $10 million.

The story that fast made the rounds among grammarians last week boils down to a court ruling over the lack of one humble Oxford comma. When delivery drivers for a Maine dairy sued their employer claiming they are owed years of overtime pay, the company countered that their work was exempt from OT by a provision in the state law.

Here’s the phrasing in the law they were fighting over:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

The courts ruled that if there had been a comma after the word “shipment” then “distribution” would have been a separate activity. Instead, without the comma, the “packing for shipment or distribution” is the job activity. The drivers don’t do any of the packing. So, game, set, and match for the drivers.

While this is a dramatic, comma-specific cautionary tale, it should remind us that punctuation carries significant meaning with it, and its misuse can have consequences. And that’s not just for lawyers and lawmakers. The clarity and accuracy of our communications can touch all aspects of our businesses.