Labor and Employment Law Overview: Massachusetts

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • State law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees in a variety of protected classes. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Massachusetts limits the use of credit checks for employment purposes. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Massachusetts, there are many requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime, meal breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Massachusetts has a number of laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation, payment frequency and final paychecks. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Massachusetts law, employees are entitled to certain leaves including parental leave, voting leave and emergency responder leave. See Attendance and Leave.
  • Massachusetts prohibits smoking in most workplaces. See Health and Safety.
  • Certain Massachusetts employers must comply with notification requirements before a plant closing or mass layoff. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is considered an employee-friendly state.

Select Massachusetts employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law and Protected Classes

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (Commission) is the primary civil rights agency in the state. Among its responsibilities, the Commission enforces the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law (MFEPL), also known as Chapter 151B. MFEPL prohibits employers with six or more employees, the state and its local governments from discriminating against current and prospective employees on the basis of protected characteristics, including:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religious creed;
  • National origin;
  • Ancestry;
  • Sex;
  • Age (over 40);
  • Criminal record (inquiries only);
  • Disability;
  • Retaliation;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Genetics; and
  • Military service.

MFEPL also prohibits sexual harassment.

Antidiscrimination and Antiharassment Training

While Massachusetts law does not expressly require employers to provide training, it encourages employer-provided antiharassment and antidiscrimination training. Also, in any legal or administrative proceeding, employers may present evidence of preventative measures, such as employee training, to minimize or avoid penalties.

Retaliation for Wage and Hour Complaints

The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act prohibits an employer from penalizing or in any way discriminating against an employee because the employee is seeking his or her rights to equal pay under wage and hour laws.

Be aware that where there is overlap between, federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on discrimination protection in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and EEO - Discrimination: Massachusetts. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization? and EEO - Discrimination: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting recruiting and hiring are:

Criminal History Background Checks

Under the Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) law, an employer with six or more employees is prohibited from inquiring about a job applicant's criminal history on its initial written application form. Employers that are statutorily prohibited from hiring ex-offenders are exempt from this provision.

CORI does not prohibit inquiries about criminal history later in the application process, but any employer in possession of a job applicant's criminal offender record information must provide the individual with a copy of the record: (i) prior to any questioning concerning his or her criminal history; and/or (ii) if an adverse decision is made on the basis of the criminal record.

Employers that conduct five or more criminal background checks per year must do so in accordance with a written policy.

Medical Examinations

Preemployment medical examinations are permissible so long as they:

  • Are requested after a conditional job offer of employment has been made; and
  • Are limited to determining whether, with reasonable accommodation, the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job.

Be aware that where there is overlap between, federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices related to background checks in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and Preemployment Screening and Testing: Massachusetts. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization? and Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting wage and hour are:

Minimum Wage

Under the Massachusetts Minimum Fair Wage Law, the minimum wage for most employees is $10.00 per hour. This will increase to $11.00 per hour on January 1, 2017. There are exceptions to the minimum wage law, and a separate minimum wage rate exists for certain employees (e.g., tipped employees).

Overtime

Nonexempt employees must be paid one-and-one-half times their regular hourly rate for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a given workweek. Certain categories of employment and workplaces are exempt from the state overtime requirement.

Overtime Pay for Sundays

The Massachusetts Blue Laws require some retailers with more than seven employees to pay premium pay for Sundays and certain holidays. However, employers cannot require employees to work on Sunday or legal holidays, and an employee's refusal to work may not be grounds for adverse employment action.

Meal Periods

Employees who work a period of more than six hours are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. This time can be paid or unpaid. Employees must be free to leave the premises and are allowed to pray during meal breaks. However, this law does not apply to certain types of employers (e.g., certain factory work) and where exemptions are granted by the Attorney General.

Child Labor

Child labor laws in Massachusetts restrict the occupations in which minors may be employed and the number of hours and times during which they may work.

All minors are prohibited from working in certain occupations, including: repairing tracks; operating or managing hoisting machines; in or about blast furnaces; and in any distillery, brewery or other establishment where alcoholic beverages are manufactured, packed, wrapped or bottled.

In addition, minors under the age of 16 are prohibited from working in a variety of other occupations such as in mercantile establishments, barber shops and public bowling alleys.

The legal hours minors who are 14 or 15 years of age may work are as follows:

  • Not during school hours;
  • Only between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. during the school year; and
  • Only between 6:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. during the summer (from July 1 through Labor Day).

When school is in session, minors who are 14 or 15 years of age may not work:

  • For more than 18 hours a week;
  • For more than three hours a day on school days;
  • For more than eight hours a day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays; and
  • For more than six days a week.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Minimum Wage: Massachusetts, Overtime: Massachusetts, Hours Worked: Massachusetts, Child Labor: Massachusetts, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and Massachusetts Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization?, Federal Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal, Hours Worked: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Pay Frequency

Nonexempt employees who are paid on an hourly basis must be paid weekly or biweekly. Exempt employees may be paid biweekly or semimonthly, unless the employee elects to be paid monthly.

Deductions

Employers are permitted to make the following types of deductions from employees' wages:

  • Labor, trade union or craft dues or obligations;
  • Deposits or purchases of shares in, or for repayment of a loan from, a credit union;
  • Deposits into a savings bank, trust company, national banking association or co-op bank;
  • Subscriptions to a nonprofit hospital or medical services corporation;
  • Payments or contributions for the cost of premiums for health insurance or on an insurance policy or annuity contract;
  • Charitable donations;
  • Stock or government bond purchases made under a plan; and
  • Lateness, if the deduction is in proportion to the lateness.

Employee requests for any other types of deductions must be made in writing.

Final Paychecks

Final paychecks are due to employees as follows:

  • An employee who resigns must be paid in full on the following regular pay day, or, in the absence of a regular pay day, no later than the following Saturday.
  • A discharged (fired or laid off) employee must be paid all wages due and owing on the day of termination.

Upon separation from employment, employees must be compensated by their employers for unused vacation time that they have earned. Also, employers have the option to pay out an employee's accrued but unused sick time as part of the employee's final pay.

Continuation of Health Coverage

Under the Massachusetts mini-COBRA law, group health policies issued to employers with 2 to 19 employees must include continuation coverage. Continuation coverage must be extended to employees and their covered dependents who experience a loss of coverage as a result of a qualifying event. Mini-COBRA benefits mirror those of federal COBRA with regard to qualifying events and timelines.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefits practices related to health care continuation, payment of wages and wage deductions in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Health Care Benefits: Massachusetts, Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Massachusetts, Payment of Wages: Massachusetts, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and Massachusetts Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization?, Federal Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, Insurance and Disability Benefits: Federal, Health Care Benefits: Federal, Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal and Payment of Wages: Federal.

Attendance and Leave

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting attendance and leave are:

Parental Leave

The Parental Leave Act (PLA) applies to employers with six or more employees. It provides for up to eight weeks of unpaid leave for the birth, adoption or placement of a child.

Employees are eligible for the leave if they:

  • Are employed full-time;
  • Have completed the initial probationary period set by the employer (the period may not exceed three months) or, if the employer does not have a probationary period, have been employed for at least three consecutive months; and
  • Provide at least two weeks' notice of the expected start of leave and intention to return (or notice "as soon as practicable" if the delay is due to a reason beyond the employee's control).

Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the PLA is available to employees only for:

  • The birth of a child;
  • The adoption of a child under the age of 18;
  • The adoption of a child under the age of 23 who is mentally or physically disabled; or
  • The placement of a child with the employee under a court order.

When the FMLA and PLA overlap, the leave may be counted simultaneously for both types of leave.

Other Leave Laws Affecting Massachusetts Employers

In addition to the PLA, a Massachusetts employer is also required to comply with other leave laws, including:

  • Paid sick time (covering employers with 11 or more employees on the payroll in the preceding calendar year);
  • Sick time (covering employers with 10 or fewer employees);
  • Small necessities leave (covering employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year);
  • Abuse victim leave (covering 50 or more employees);
  • Crime witness leave;
  • Jury duty leave;
  • Voting leave (covering employers in the manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile industries);
  • Military leave; and
  • Emergency responder leave.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on attendance and leave practices in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Jury Duty: Massachusetts, Other Leaves: Massachusetts, USERRA: Massachusetts, FMLA: Massachusetts, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and Massachusetts Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization?, Federal Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, FMLA: Federal, Jury Duty: Federal, Other Leaves: Federal and USERRA: Federal.

Health and Safety

With limited exceptions, under Massachusetts law, employers must provide a smoke-free environment for all employees working in an enclosed workplace. No Smoking signs must be posted where smoking is prohibited.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on health and safety requirements in Massachusetts can be found in Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, HR and Workplace Safety: Massachusetts, Employee Health: Massachusetts, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and Massachusetts Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization?, Federal Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, Employee Health: Federal and HR and Workplace Safety (OSHA Compliance): Federal.

Organizational Exit

The Massachusetts Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires any employer closing a facility, defined as a plant, factory or other business location with 50 or more employees located within Massachusetts, to promptly report the impending closure to the director of the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development (the commissioner).

After making an independent investigation, the commissioner will certify whether a plant closing has or will occur if at least 90 percent of the employees of a facility have or will be terminated within six months (or another period chosen by the commissioner). Certification by the commissioner entitles a separated employee to reemployment assistance benefits.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on organizational exit practices in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? and Involuntary Terminations: Massachusetts. Federal requirements can be found in Does This Law Apply to My Organization? and Involuntary Terminations: Federal.