How to Stay Compliant with Massachusetts Employment Laws

How to Stay Compliant with Massachusetts Employment Laws

by on 9 Dec, 2021

If your business offices are in Massachusetts or employees working within Massachusetts state borders, you must stay familiar with all state laws.  It is not enough to comply with the guidance of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act. You must also comply with Massachusetts Blue Laws and the Massachusetts Wages Act.   

These laws contain many details in their guidance concerning labor legislation. You will find compliance with Massachusetts state laws easier if you follow the eight steps laid out below.

8 Steps to Complying with Massachusetts Laws  

Complying with Massachusetts employment law compliance requires following eight steps.  

Step 1: Beware of the Blue Laws  

Massachusetts’ Blue Laws govern the work conducted on Sundays and holidays. They are the source of much confusion. In general, Massachusetts Blue Laws prohibit business conducted on a Sunday. The difficulty comes in the 55 exceptions to that rule. If a company does not come under one of the 55 exceptions to the Blue Laws, it cannot operate on a Sunday unless it obtains a permit from the Chief of Police where the owner conducts business. 

A business that satisfies one of the exceptions must then comply with the Blue Laws requirement that the employee volunteers to work on Sundays or holidays. 

Compliance with the Sunday closure rules includes holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. The rules also apply to Columbus Day before noon and Veterans’ Day before 1pm. 

Retail employers who open on New Year’s Day must conform to the volunteer requirement. In addition, retail businesses may not open on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day without a permit from the Department of Labor Standards. 

Manufacturing companies may fit within one of the 55 exceptions. However, manufacturers may not require employees to work on legal holidays unless the work “is absolutely necessary” and is “legally performed on a Sunday” which means that the work requires continuous operation of the facility.  

The Massachusetts Attorney General enforces the Blue Laws. Violations of Sunday and Holiday laws mean a penalty between $20 and $100 for the first offense. The fine increases to between $50 and $200 for subsequent offenses. Violations of the voluntariness rules may subject employers to fines up to $1,000. 

Step 2: Enforce Meal Breaks  

Like federal law, Massachusetts law requires that employees receive compensation for all working time. Working time includes all active work, time the employer requires the employee to stay on-premises, and time the employer requires the employee to serve the employer off-premises. 

Massachusetts law requires that employees receive 30 minutes unpaid meal breaks for every six hours of employment. This rule applies to exempt and non-exempt employees. Fines for violations of this rule range from $300 to $600 per violation. 

Step 3: Understand Reporting Pay   

Massachusetts law requires employees scheduled to work three hours must receive compensation for the number of hours scheduled even if the employer assigns no work to that employee. 

Shifts over 24 hours mean the employer and employee may agree that up to 8 hours of total sleep and mealtime will remain unpaid as long as the employer provides adequate sleeping quarters and the employee has uninterrupted sleep time. 

Travel time is also subject to compensation in certain circumstances. The employee’s daily commute to and from work home to his place of employment does not require compensation. Travel for work requires payment. 

Step 4: Know Leave Laws

Massachusetts laws mandate the following leaves:

  • Time off to vote during the two hours after polls open if the manufacturing, mechanical, or mercantile employee so requests.

  • Time off for court appearances, such as three days of jury duty by any regular employee.

  • Time off to participate in Veterans Day or Memorial Day activities; employers with 50 or more employees must provide paid leave for participation in Veterans Day activities if notice is given.

  • Small Necessities Leave - 24 hours in a 12-month period for FMLA employees to attend school activities, medical appointments, or accompany an elderly relative to medical appointments or retirement home visits. Violators are subject to fines of $500 or less. Civil damages instituted by an employee against the employer are subject to treble damages, costs, and attorney fees. 

Step 5: Pay Fired Employees Immediately  

Massachusetts law, in general, requires employers to pay all wages for hourly employees on a one- or two-week basis. Exempt employees may receive their paychecks:

  • Bi-weekly, 

  • Semi-monthly, or 

  • Monthly at the employee’s request.

The law also requires employees to receive their wages, including overtime, within six days of the end of the pay period for which they earned those wages. Wages include commissions that are definitely determined and payable. Wages also include holiday and vacation pay whether under an oral or written agreement. 

A person who voluntarily terminates employment must receive wages for all hours worked on the next regular payday following termination of employment. 

For involuntary terminations, the employer must pay the terminated employee all wages owed, including overtime and accrued vacation time, at the end of the termination day. 

Step 6: Follow the Equal Pay Act  

The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act prohibits paying different amounts based on a worker’s gender for “comparable work.” Comparable work means work that is substantially similar in skill, effort, and responsibilities in similar working conditions. 

Employers may avoid penalties if the payment differential they apply satisfies the following conditions:

  • Seniority programs,

  • Merit programs,

  • Earnings based on production quantity or quality,

  • Based on geographic location,

  • Based on education or training or experience, and

  • Travel, if the employee’s job requires travel. 

The Equal Pay Act forbids employers from requesting a prospective candidate’s salary history before making a job offer. The prospective candidate may disclose the information. The Act makes it unlawful for employers to forbid employees from talking about their salaries or discussing salaries with other employees. 

Step 7: Display Relevant Posters  

Employers subject to Massachusetts labor laws must display relevant posters that inform employees of their rights under state and federal wage and hour laws. Posters must appear inconspicuous locations, such as cafeterias and break rooms. Employees are entitled to free copies of the poster upon request. 

The posters must reference the rules regarding payment of:

  • Wages, including the minimum wage rules in effect, 

  • Tips, 

  • Meal breaks,

  • Sick time, and

  • Overtime. 

In addition, the posted material should inform employees about the anti-retaliation rules, the Small Necessities Leave Act, the right to inspect payroll records, and the right to bring an action in a court of law for violations of the Act. 

A list of the following schedules must also appear in conspicuous places:

  • Work schedule for minors, including start and stop times, as well as total hours each day, break times each day, and total hours for the week; and 

  • If an employer conducts business on a Sunday, the employer must post a list of employees scheduled to work that day and the alternate Day of Rest they will receive instead of Sunday.

Employers may not require minors to work during their scheduled time off during the posted period.  

Step 8: Keep Personnel Records

An employer with 20 or more employees must maintain certain documents as part of an employee’s personnel record. This rule includes documents that show evidence of an employee’s qualifications for employment, transfer, promotion, and disciplinary action. If the employer places information in the employee’s personnel record that will adversely affect qualifications, transfers, promotion, or disciplinary action, the employer must notify that employee within 10 days.

If an employee believes the employer has inserted false information in the personnel record, the employee may request expungement. 

At least twice a year, employers must allow employees to review their personnel information during regular business hours at the place of employment within five days of the employee’s written request. Employees are also entitled to copies of their personnel records upon written request. 

Stay One Step Ahead

The above eight steps have nuances and different companies may require different compliance programs. Employers must make sure they comply with local laws and federal labor laws. Staying on top of all the changes in legislation and regulatory guidance can put a strain on in-house HR staff. Non-compliance with employment law requirements leads to fines, fees, and potential employee lawsuits. 

If you aren’t sure whether your HR staff remains in compliance with Massachusetts laws, you should consider outsourcing employment law compliance to supplement your in-house HR team.


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