Massachusetts Labor Laws: A Complete Guide to Wages, Breaks, Overtime, and More (2024)

In this article, we’ll dive deep into Massachusetts’s labor laws, with details on all the important aspects of the state’s regulations on your employees.
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Labor laws define all aspects of employment, from employee working conditions, pay, and benefits, to worker protections and social insurance. While nationwide federal laws govern labor relations across the U.S., specific legal obligations differ between states or cities.

Today, we’ll explore Massachusetts labor laws in our 50-state series. We’re talking wages, breaks, overtime, and much more. Without further ado, let’s dive straight into it.

Meals and Breaks in Massachusetts

Employers in Massachusetts aren’t required to offer rest breaks.

However, according to federal law ECR Title-29/Section-785.18, employees working more than six hours daily are entitled to a 30-minute, unpaid meal break. Employees must be exempt from all duties and can leave the workplace during meal breaks.

That said, employers must compensate employees working through their meal breaks. Alternatively, workers can offset their on-duty meal breaks with regular working hours.

Employers must also offer at least one day off after employees work for six consecutive days. This day off must have an unbroken rest period of at least 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Leave and Paid Time Off (PTO) in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is generous when it comes to paid time off. Under the Earned Sick Time Law, workers are entitled to 40 hours of job-protected sick leave. They also get an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. They can use it to care for themselves or their ailing relatives. The only individuals exempted from sick leave are:

However, only employers with more than 11 employees must offer paid sick leave. Those with less than 11 employees must offer earned sick leave, which doesn’t have to be paid.

Employees can choose to bundle or accrue their paid sick time. They are entitled to sick leave 90 days from their first day at work. Employees must notify their employers that they intend to use their sick time, except in emergencies.

Employers can ask for proof of illness, but only in cases where employees miss consecutive days of work without notice. The law bars employers from seeking details about illness, injury, or domestic violence.

Here are some of the most common leave types employees are entitled to in Massachusetts: 

Break or Leave Type in Massachusetts

Parental Leave

Employees in Massachusetts have the right to eight weeks of parental leave for each child. However, parents working under the same employer receive an aggregate of eight weeks of leave for childbirth and adoption.

Sick Time and Safe Leave

Employees in Massachusetts are entitled to 40 hours of paid or unpaid sick time and safe leave per calendar year.

Military Leave

Under USERRA, employees must reemploy employees returning from military service. However, employees must give employers advanced notice before leaving for the military.

Jury Duty Leave

In Massachusetts, employees have the right to three days of paid jury duty leave. The state will take over payment after the third day of jury duty at $50 daily. This payment is subject to taxation.

Overtime Regulations in Massachusetts

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers in Massachusetts must pay overtime:

Interstate commerce is commercial or transactional activities between states – anything from selling goods to sending emails between states. Businesses not covered under the FLSA are still subject to Massachusetts overtime laws.

Under the FLSA, employees must receive overtime compensation for exceeding 40 work hours a week. This compensation is paid at 1.5 times their usual rate. The usual rate excludes commissions, bonuses, and other incentive payments in this case. 

Businesses not covered under the FLSA are still subject to Massachusetts compensation laws. According to Chapter 151, Section 1A, employers must pay their workers overtime whenever they exceed 40 weekly hours of work. The overtime rate should be no less than 1.5 times the employees’ basic salaries. Retail employees working on Sundays or holidays must also be compensated at the same rate. 

How Is Overtime Calculated in Massachusetts?

Overtime in the Bay State is paid at 1.5 times the regular rate. For instance, if employees work 60 hours a week and their usual pay is \$30, their overtime rate is calculated as follows:

60 hours – 40 hours = 20 overtime hours

At 1.5 times the regular rate, their overtime compensation is 1.5 * $30 = $45 per hour

Their weekly compensation is thus:

40 (regular work hours) * $30 = $1,200

20 (overtime hours) * $45 = $900

$1,200 + $900 = $2,100

Are There Any Exceptions to Overtime?

Yes, Massachusetts exempts many types of employees from overtime. Employees exempt from overtime in the Bay State include:

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Wages and Benefits in Massachusetts

Massachusetts law assumes all workers are employees. It also dictates that employers pay employees for all the hours worked. All workers are entitled to a minimum hourly wage, with a few exceptions, namely:

The current state minimum wage (effective 2023) sits at $15. This is more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Overtime payment is also required at 1.5 times the standard rate. This translates to $22.5 as the minimum overtime compensation.

Massachusetts also sets its service rate at $6.75. The service rate applies to those in the service industry earning more than $20 in tips every month.

The service rate plus tips should match the state’s minimum wage. However, tips don’t form part of the minimum wage. It’s also worth noting that the minimum overtime amount of $22.75 also applies to service industry employees.

The law allows waiters, bartenders, and service employees to pool their tips. Tip pooling is where service workers pool their tips and divide the sum equally. Bar employers or managers cannot take their employees’ pooled tips.

Massachusetts law also allows employers to pay certain employees subminimum wage. A subminimum wage is a wage that is less than the standard minimum wage set by state labor laws.
Employers can pay employees with disabilities, apprentices, learners, and students a subminimum wage. However, they can only do so after obtaining a 14(c) certificate from the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

That said, Massachusetts requires employers to pay hourly employees weekly or bi-weekly. This is usually six to seven days after the last payment period. The payment should be made entirely and includes compensation for all hours worked, earned vacation compensation, paid holiday compensation, and other bonuses or commissions.

According to Chapter 149, Section 28, employers must furnish their employees with pay stubs. These pay stubs must contain the following information:

Aside from payrolls, employers must keep their employee’s payroll information for three years. These payrolls should be made readily available to employees on request. A typical payroll must contain:

It’s also worth noting that employers can only make deductions the law mandates (state and federal taxes). However, employees can request deductions for their own benefits like savings or retirement contributions.

Common benefits for employees in Massachusetts:

Benefits in Massachusetts

Health Insurance

The law requires employers with over 11 employees to provide reasonable contributions to their employee’s health insurance. Alternatively, they could pay a $295 Fair Share Contribution to the state.

Retirement Benefits

Employees have a right to defined benefit plans like cash balance and traditional retirement plans. They could also sign up for defined benefits contribution plans like 401(k)s and simple plans. Eligible employees can also sign up for the CORE Plan.

Workers Compensation

Employees must be covered under a comprehensive workers’ compensation insurance policy.

Prevailing Wages in Massachusetts

In the vibrant working landscape of Massachusetts, prevailing wages take center stage, ensuring fairness and equity in compensation across various construction projects.

As state regulations mandate, prevailing wages are the hourly wage rates and benefits established by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) for specific job classifications in the construction industry.

Here are the critical aspects of prevailing wage laws in Massachusetts.

Hiring Practices in Massachusetts

In the Bay State are governed by robust laws designed to ensure fairness, prevent discrimination, and promote equal opportunities for all job seekers. The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act is a cornerstone of the state’s hiring regulations. Its main highlights include:

Job Advertising

Massachusetts laws on job advertising are similar to other states. Employers must avoid specifying preferences based on gender, race, sex, and other factors. They should also accurately describe the tasks and responsibilities in their job advertisements. The state also encourages employers to include Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE) statements in job advertisements.

Criminal History 

Like many other states, Massachusetts strictly follows the “ban the box” law. This means employers are restricted from asking questions about criminal history during applicants’ job applications. Employers can ask about criminal histories later in hiring, with some restrictions.

According to  151-B §4, employers are barred from inquiring about misdemeanors over five years old. Questions about minor infractions like drunkenness, speeding, and minor traffic violations are also prohibited. Employers are also barred from requesting employees a copy of criminal records.

Negligent Hiring

Massachusetts law acknowledges negligent hiring claims. Employers in Massachusetts must exercise reasonable care when hiring and recruiting employees. As such, employers must conduct background checks and exercise foreseeability when hiring. Failure to do so would mean employers will be held liable for any property damage or injuries their employees cause. 

Medical Examination

Fit and healthy employees can boost your workforce. However, Massachusetts has clear laws on when and how employers can request employee medical examinations.

First, employers are prohibited from requesting pre-employment medical examinations unless they are job-related. This means the medical examination must be directly related to specific job responsibilities.

After extending a job offer, an employer may condition the offer on the medical examination results. However, this exam must apply to all employees in similar positions. Again, examinations must only test for job-related disabilities and illnesses.

Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts doesn’t have specific drug testing laws for private employers. However, the law does put certain reins on random drug testing. Employers can only enforce a random drug test on a case-to-case basis unless required by industry-specific federal regulations. Post-accident and suspicious drug testing is allowed by law.

Employers must provide employees with written consent forms before conducting a drug test. They must also keep drug tests confidential, regardless of the outcome. It’s also worth noting that employees have the legal right to protest positive drug tests and request a confirmatory test. All confirmatory tests will be carried out at the employee’s expense.

According to  151-B §4, employers are barred from inquiring about misdemeanors over five years old.

Health and Safety Standards in Massachusetts

All Massachusetts employees have a legal right to a safe, healthy, and conducive workplace. In Massachusetts, health and safety standards in the workplace are governed by federal and state regulations. Employers must observe the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The Massachusetts Workplace Safety and Health Program (WSHP). The latter was adopted as an OSHA state plan for Massachusetts in August 2022.

Under OSHA and the WSHP, employers must:

Aside from the above, WHSP encourages employers to provide ergonomic protection to shield workers from musculoskeletal disorders. Violations of WHSP and OSHA standards are common in some industries. Employees can use the following avenues to report these violations.

Employee Termination and Resignation in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is an at-will state. This means employers can fire employees as they wish, provided they don’t breach discrimination laws. Conversely, employees can resign whenever they want. However, they’re generally expected to provide reasonable notice before resigning, allowing for a smooth transition. 

The law prohibits employers from retaliatory employee dismissals and considers them wrongful terminations. Other forms of wrongful termination in Massachusetts include the following:

Employers must also pay terminated employees their paychecks within 24 hours of their termination. However, their wages are due on the next pay period if the employee quits.

The law doesn’t require employers to offer severance pay. However, most employers do so as a sign of gratitude for their time and effort in the business. 

Unemployment Benefits in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, unemployment benefits are a crucial lifeline for individuals facing job loss. These benefits are administered by the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The state’s unemployment insurance provides financial support to eligible individuals during unemployment.

To be eligible for these benefits, employees must:

You can visit the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) website to apply for unemployment benefits. Once on the website, locate the “Online Application for Benefits” section. You’ll then be guided to create a secure account and provide the necessary information. Alternatively, you can apply via phone by calling (877) 626-6800 and providing the necessary information.

What About Employers?

Employers also play a significant role in ensuring their former employees qualify for unemployment benefits. Understanding these roles is not only crucial for compliance but also for streamlining the entire process. Employers can find this information on:

Penalties for Noncompliance in Massachusetts

The office of the attorney general can take both criminal and civil actions against employers who fail to comply with the state’s labor laws. Some of the most common law violations include:

Massachusetts Labor Law Violation

Penalty

Minimum Wage

Employer must pay three times the damages. That means a mistake of $2,000 could attract penalties of up to $6,000.

Overtime

Employers are subject to up to $1,000 fines for each violation.

Fair Employment

Employers must compensate the employees for economic losses, out-of-pocket expenses, and emotional distress.

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Employers must compensate employees three times the amount of lost benefits and wages.

Recordkeeping

Employers who violate these laws can face criminal penalties of up to $2,500.

Child Labor

Violating child labor laws can attract fines of up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to one month.

Other Essential Information About Labor Laws in Massachusetts

The following lists other essential information about labor laws in Massachusetts:

The Bottom Line on Massachusetts Labor Laws

Labor laws safeguard employees against discrimination, hazardous environments, and unfair working conditions. Employers who fail to play by these rules could face serious penalties or end up in jail.

Massachusetts is an employee-supportive state since it offers additional protection against wage violations and discrimination. As an employer living and working in Massachusetts, it is important to understand and comply with the state’s employment rules and regulations to avoid getting into trouble with the authorities.

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