The Massachusetts Employment Law Guide

The state laws every business owner should know

Businesses must post all applicable state and federal labor law posters in the workplace.

Massachusetts labor law posters to download

Federal labor law posters to download

Wages and Breaks

Minimum wage
$12.75

The current minimum wage in Massachusetts is $12.75.

The rate will increase as follows over the next several years:

January 1, 2021: $13.50
January 1, 2022: $14.25
January 1, 2023: $15.00

State law requires the minimum wage to be at least 50 cents higher than the federal minimum wage.

Tipped min wage
$4.35

The current minimum wage for tipped employees is $4.35.

The rate will increase as follows over the next several years:

January 1, 2020: $4.95
January 1, 2021: $5.55
January 1, 2022: $6.15
January 1, 2023: $6.75

Employers may require tipped employees to participate in a tip pooling or sharing arrangement. The tip pool must be limited to wait staff, service employees, and service bartenders, and the tips must be divided in proportion to the employees’ service.

Overtime
1.5X

Non-exempt employees must be paid an overtime rate of 1 ½ times the regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in one workweek.

The federal overtime rule stipulates that the minimum salary requirement for administrative, professional, and executive exemptions is $684 per week, or $35,568 per year. Workers making at least this salary level may be eligible for overtime based on their job duties. 

Massachusetts’ Blue Laws limit an employer’s ability to require employees to work on Sundays and certain holidays. In situations where employers are able to have employees work on Sundays or holidays, they may have to pay employees overtime.

Retail employees can refuse to work on the following holidays and must be paid 1 ½ times their regular rate if they do work: New Year’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day after noon, Independence Day, and Veterans Day after 1 p.m.

Meal breaks
30 min unpaid per 6 hrs

Employers may not require employees to work more than 6 hours in a day without providing a 30-minute break, except for the following workplaces: ironworks, glassworks, paper mills, letterpress establishments, print works, bleaching works, dyeing works, any other factories, workshops, or mechanical establishments the Attorney General of Massachusetts designates as exempt.

The break period may be unpaid if employees are free to leave the workplace and do as they please.

Weekly breaks
1 day after 6 days

Most employers must allow a worker to have one day off after six consecutive days of work. This day off must include an unbroken period between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Certain employees are exempt from this requirement, including janitors, pharmacists, and those that care for live animals.

Final Paychecks

Employees who are fired or laid off

Employers must pay employees who are fired or laid off all due wages on the day of discharge, except in Boston where they must be paid as soon as the employer has complied with the laws requiring payrolls, bills and accounts to be certified.

Employees who quit

Employers have until the next scheduled payday to pay employees who quit all due wages. If there is no regular payday, employers have until the next Saturday.

Employees who are suspended or resign due to a labor dispute

While there is no law that specifically addresses when employers must pay employees who are suspended or who resign due to a labor dispute, employers should pay all due wages no later than the next payday (or the next Saturday) to comply with known laws.

Child Labor

Duties and supervision

Minors may not perform certain duties. After 8 p.m., minors must be directly supervised by an adult who is in the workplace and accessible, unless the minor is working in a kiosk, cart or stand in a common area of a shopping mall that is equipped with security.

Minors 14 and 15 years of age when school is in session

Work is only permitted between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. They may work a maximum of 3 hours a day on school days, 8 hours a day on the weekends and holidays, 6 days a week, and 18 hours a week.

Minors 14 and 15 years of age when school is not in session

Work is only permitted between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. They may work a maximum of 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, and 6 days a week.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age

Work is only permitted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on nights preceding a school day. Work is permitted between 6 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. on nights not preceding a school day. They may work a maximum of 48 hours a week, 9 hours a day, and 6 days a week.

Leave Requirements

Sick Days

Most Massachusetts workers have the right to earn up to 40 hours of sick leave per year.

Employees must earn at least 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

If an employer has 11 or more employees, they must provide paid sick leave. Employers with less than 11 employees must provide earned sick time, but it does not have to be paid.

Medical and family leave

Employers may be required to provide employees unpaid leave in accordance with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Parental leave

Employers that have six or more employees must provide their employees with parental leave.

Employees are entitled to up to eight weeks for: giving birth; bonding with a new baby; the placement of a child under the age of 18 (or under the age of 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled) for adoption with the employee adopting or intending to adopt; or the placement of a child with an employee pursuant to a court order.

Employees who have worked for the employer full-time for at least three consecutive months are eligible for the leave. The employer may choose whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

Bereavement leave

Employers are not required to provide bereavement leave.

Vacation time

Employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid vacation leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one.

If they do choose to provide vacation time, employers must pay employees for accrued leave upon separation of employment.

reasonable cap may be placed on the amount of vacation that can be accrued.

Employers may implement a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy that requires employees to take their leave by a certain date as long as they have a reasonable amount of time to do so.

Holiday leave

Retail employers can only require work on the following holidays with a permit from the local police department and approval by the State’s Division of Occupational Safety: Christmas, Columbus Day before noon, Thanksgiving, and Veterans Day before 1 p.m.

Retail employees can refuse to work on the following holidays and must be paid 1 ½ times their regular rate if they do work: New Year’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day after noon, Independence Day, and Veterans Day after 1 p.m.

Non-retail employers can only require work on the following holidays with a permit from the local police department: Christmas, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Columbus Day before noon, Memorial Day, Veterans Day before 1 p.m., and Independence Day.

Jury Duty

Employers must pay regular employees their regular wages for the first 3 days of juror service.

Employees may not be penalized for responding to a jury summons, and employers may not impose compulsory work assignments upon any employee or interfere with the availability, effectiveness, or peace of mind of the employee during his or her juror service performance.

Voting time

Massachusetts law only prohibits employers in the manufacturing, mechanical, or mercantile industries from requiring employees to work within the first 2 hours of the polls being open.

There are no statutes that require employers outside of these industries to provide employees with leave to vote.

Witness leave

Employers cannot take any adverse action against an employee for taking leave to appear as a witness in a criminal proceeding. Employees must provide notice to their employer of the need for leave.

Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Leave

Employers that have at least 50 employees must provide leave to an employee who is the victim or has a family member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence. The employee is entitled to up to 15 days of leave from work in any 12-month period, as long as the employee is not the perpetrator of the violence.

Emergency Response Leave

Employers may not discharge or discipline an employee who is a volunteer member of a fire department or ambulance because they take leave to respond to an emergency.

The employer may choose whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

Small Necessities Leave

Employers that have 50 or more employees must allow their employees to take up to 24 hours of unpaid leave every 12 months for: a child’s school activities, a child’s doctor or dentist appointment, or an elder relative’s doctor or dentist appointment or other appointment related to the elder’s care.

Military Leave

The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is applicable to all employers in the United States.

Hiring, firing, and more

Discrimination

Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of: Race, Color, Age, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, National origin, Pregnancy, Genetic information, including family medical history, Physical or mental disability, Child or spousal support withholding, Military or veteran status, Citizenship and/or immigration status.

Additionally, the state of Massachusetts prohibits discrimination based on the following: Marital status, Health insurance status, Criminal record.

Click here to read our blog on what acceptable and unacceptable questions to ask during an interview.

Termination

Massachusetts is an employment-at-will state, which means that without a written employee contract, employees can be terminated for any reason at any time, provided that the reason is not discriminatory and that the employer is not retaliating against the employee for a rightful action.

Record Keeping

Regarding employment and payroll data, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and others, you must:

For at least 3 years: keep payroll records, certificates, agreements, notices, collective bargaining agreements, employment contracts, and sales and purchase records. Also keep completed copies of each employee’s I-9 for three years after they are hired. If the employee works longer than three years, hold on to the form for at least one year after the employee leaves. 

For at least 2 years: Keep basic employment and earning records like timecards, wage-rate tables, shipping and billing records, and records of additions to or deductions from wages. Also keep the records that show why you may pay different wages to employees of different sexes, such as wage rates, job evaluations, seniority and merit systems, and collective bargaining agreements.

For at least 1 year: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers should keep all employment records for at least one year from the employee’s date of termination. 

Other record-keeping laws that may apply to you: 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you need to keep records of job-related injuries and illnesses for five years. But some records, like those covering toxic substance exposure, have to be kept for 30 years.

You must keep files of benefit plans and seniority and merit systems while they are in effect and for at least a year after they end. You must also retain summary descriptions and annual reports of benefits plans for six years.

If your company is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you must also retain relevant records of leaves, notices, policies, and more for three years.

Additional laws that may apply to you

Appearance & Grooming

Employers who wish to enforce policies that regulate employees’ length of hair or the way in which facial hair is groomed must make exceptions to those policies to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Employers must show concrete, tangible harm to the business; potential or expected losses will not suffice.

Pay Practices

Employers may pay their employees weekly or biweekly. If an employer changes from paying wages weekly to biweekly, they must provide individual notices to employees 90 days in advance.

Salaried employees may be paid weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, or, if the employee requests, monthly.

Employees who work five or six days a week must be paid within six days of the end of the pay period. All other employees may be paid within seven days of the end of the pay period.

Background checks

Employers who run background checks should ensure they’re following the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which are available here.

Job applications must include a statement that their work history may include any verified work performed on a volunteer basis.

Massachusetts requires that employers conduct background checks on the following applicants, employees, or volunteers: Those who provide services to elderly or disabled people in a home or a community-based setting, a long-term care facility, an assisted living residence, or a continuing care facility; Those who have direct or indirect contact with elderly or disabled people; Those who have access to the files of elderly or disabled people; Those who may have direct and unmonitored contact with firearms, shotguns, or rifles; and those working at a children’s camp.

Employers who conduct five or more criminal background checks per year must also do the following: Notify the applicant of the possibility for adverse decision based on the applicant’s criminal history; Give the applicant a copy of the background check, along with the employer’s policy on the use of that information; Provide the applicant with information on the procedures for correcting a criminal record.

Credit and Investigative Checks

To obtain a credit check on applicants or employees, employers must enter into an agreement with the consumer reporting agency that they have provided written notice to the applicant or employee that they will request a credit report. For current employees, notice in an employee manual is sufficient.

If the employer decides not to hire an applicant or to discharge an employee because of their credit report, they must notify them in writing within 10 business days of making their decision. The notice must comply with the following requirements: Be in a clear and conspicuous format; Be at least 10-point font; Contain the name, address, and toll-free phone number of the credit reporting agency that provided the report; Inform the applicant or employee of their rights.

Ban-the-Box Law

Employers may not ask about criminal records on initial employment applications.

When applicants have advanced to the interview stage, they may be asked about their criminal history with the additional restrictions: Employers may not ask about arrests or detention that did not lead to conviction. Employers may not ask about first-time convictions for drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, minor traffic violations, affray, or disturbing the peace. Employers may not ask about misdemeanor convictions that are at least five years old, unless the applicant has another conviction in the last five years.

An employer that asks about criminal history must include a statement that an applicant whose record has been sealed is entitled to answer that they have no criminal record.

If an employer is in possession of information about the applicant’s criminal history at the time an inquiry is made, regardless of the source, the applicant must be provided with a copy of that information.

COBRA

COBRA is a federal law that allows many employees to continue their health insurance benefits after their employment ends. Because federal COBRA only applies to employers that have 20 or more employees, many states have adopted their own versions of the law, which are known as “mini-COBRAs.” Massachusetts’s mini-COBRA allows employees to continue their coverage for up to 18 months or, under certain circumstances, up to 36 months.

Sexual Harassment Policy Requirement

Massachusetts requires that all employers with six or more employees distribute a sexual harassment policy that includes very specific information, including who to contact with complaints within the organization, and the contact information for government agencies that may be contacted about harassment.

Employee Monitoring

Employers may not listen to or record their employees’ phone calls unless they have a business necessity for doing so. If the conversation is personal, the employer must stop listening immediately.

Independent Contractor Test

An employer who wants to treat someone as an independent contractor rather than an employee has to show that the work:

1. is done without the direction and control of the employer; and
2. is performed outside the usual course of the employer’s business; and
3. is done by someone who has their own, independent business or trade doing that kind of work.

Compliance Deadlines

Get our Compliance Calendar to stay on top of deadlines throughout the year: View it on your computer. Click + Google Calendar in the lower right to add it to your Google Calendar and subscribe to all updates. You can also download a calendar (.ics) file that you can import into iCal or Outlook, or download a PDF to your computer. 

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Remember

This summary is not qualified legal advice. Laws are always subject to change, and they can vary from municipality to municipality. It’s up to you to make sure you’re compliant with all laws and statutes in your area. If you need more compliance help, we recommend consulting with a qualified lawyer, checking with your local government agencies, or signing up for Homebase to get help from our certified HR Pros. 

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