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

  • Massachusetts law prohibits an employer from discriminating and retaliating against employees in a variety of protected classes. Employers must also provide pregnancy accommodations, protect whistleblowers and give employees to access their personnel files. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Massachusetts passed a "ban the box" law and limits preemployment criminal background checks. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Massachusetts, there are requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime, meal breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Massachusetts has laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation, payment of wages, pay statements, pay frequency and wage deductions. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Massachusetts law, employees are entitled to certain leaves or time off, including parental leave, sick leave, domestic violence leave, volunteer emergency responder leave and time off on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. See Time Off and Leaves of Absence.
  • Massachusetts prohibits smoking in most workplaces and texting while driving. See Health and Safety.
  • When employment ends, Massachusetts employers must comply with applicable final pay and mass layoff notification requirements. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has many laws that provide greater protections to employees than federal law, including a higher minimum wage, health care continuation coverage obligations for smaller employers and sick leave, but generally follows federal law with respect to topics such as military leave and occupational safety and health.

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:

Fair Employment Practices

The Fair Employment Practices Law (FEPL), also known as Chapter 151B, prohibits employers with six or more employees from discriminating against current and prospective employees on the basis of protected characteristics, including:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religious creed;
  • National origin;
  • Ancestry;
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions;
  • Age (over 40);
  • Criminal record (inquiries only);
  • Disability;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity;
  • Qualified handicap;
  • Genetics; and
  • Military/veteran status.

The FEPL also prohibits sexual harassment and prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose an unlawful practice, file a complaint or cooperate in an investigation.

Equal Pay

Massachusetts prohibits an employer from paying employees less than employees of the opposite sex for comparable work. The law also 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.

Wage differentials may be permissible if based upon:

  • A seniority system;
  • A merit system;
  • A system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales or revenue;
  • The geographic location where a job is performed;
  • Education, training or experience (if reasonably related to the job); or
  • Travel that is a regular and necessary condition of the job.

An employer may not reduce the wages of any employee solely in order to comply with the law.

Discussion of Wages

The equal pay law prohibits an employer from requiring as a condition of employment that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about the employee's own wages or any other employee's wages.

Pregnancy Accommodation

The FEPL (Chapter 151B) requires an employer with six or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee's pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition, including lactation or the need to express milk for a nursing child. A reasonable accommodation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Rest breaks;
  • Time off;
  • Equipment or seating;
  • Temporary transfer;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Light duty;
  • Private nonbathroom space for expressing breast milk;
  • Assistance with manual labor; and
  • Modified work schedule.

Access to Personnel Files

An employer must provide employees with access to their personnel files within five business days of receiving the employee's written request. The employer is obligated to allow an employee access two times per calendar year.

The employer must notify an employee within 10 days after placing disciplinary information in the employee's personnel file, or information that negatively reflects on the employee's qualification for continued employment, promotion, transfer or increased compensation.

If an employee finds information that he or she believes to be untrue or inaccurate, the employee and employer may mutually agree to amend, revise or remove the information. If an agreement cannot be reached, the employee has a right to include explanatory information in the file.

An employer with 20 or more employees is required to keep certain information, if prepared by the employer, in an employee's personnel record. Such employers must keep complete personnel records for at least three years after the employment relationship ends.

Employees also have rights related to their own payroll records.

Whistleblower Protections

The False Claims Act prohibits employers from:

  • Making, adopting or enforcing any rule, regulation or policy preventing an employee from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency or from acting to further a false claims action; and
  • Retaliating against an employee for lawfully disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency or for furthering a false claims action.

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 EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in Massachusetts can be found in the Massachusetts Employee Handbook Table of Contents, EEO - Discrimination: Massachusetts, EEO - Harassment: Massachusetts, EEO - Retaliation: Massachusetts, Disabilities (ADA): Massachusetts, HR Management: Massachusetts, Employee Discipline: Massachusetts and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? Federal requirements can be found in EEO - Discrimination: Federal, EEO - Harassment: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal Disabilities (ADA): Federal, HR Management: Federal and Employee Discipline: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting recruiting and hiring are:

Ban the Box

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. An employer may inquire about criminal history later in the application process (e.g., in an interview).

Criminal Checks

Any employer in possession of a job applicant's criminal offender record information must provide the individual with a copy of the record:

  • Prior to any questioning concerning his or her criminal history; and
  • 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 maintain a written policy containing certain required provisions.

Salary History Inquiry Restrictions

Massachusetts restricts an employer's ability to obtain a prospective employee's salary history when recruiting and hiring candidates. In particular, an employer is prohibited from seeking the wage or salary history of a prospective employee or current or former employer or requiring that a prospective employee's prior wage or salary history meet certain criteria. However, an employer may:

  • Confirm prior wages or salary or permit a prospective employee to confirm prior wages or salary, if the prospective employee voluntarily disclosed such information; and
  • Seek or confirm a prospective employee's wage or salary history after an employment offer with compensation has been negotiated and made.

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 in Massachusetts can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Massachusetts, Employment Offer: Massachusetts and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? Federal requirements can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal and Employment Offer: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Minimum Wage

Under the Minimum Fair Wage Law, the minimum wage for most employees is $11.00 per hour. 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.

Retail employers with more than seven employees must pay at least one-and-one-half times a nonexempt employee's regular rate for hours worked on Sundays and certain holidays. However, an employer may not require employees to work on Sundays or legal holidays, and an employee's refusal to work may not be grounds for termination, discrimination or a reduction in hours.

Meal Breaks

Employees who work a period of more than six hours are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for every six hours worked. 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 under the age of 18 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.

Whether or not school is in session, minors who are 16 or 17 years old may work:

  • 48 hours a week;
  • Nine hours a day;
  • Six days a week; and
  • From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (may be later if the next day is not a regularly scheduled school day).

Minors who are 14 or 15 years of age may not work during school hours and may work only between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. during the school year (to 9:00 p.m. from July 1 through Labor Day).

Minors who are 14 or 15 years of age may not work more than:

  • 18 hours a week when school is in session (40 hours when school is not in session);
  • Three hours a day on school days;
  • Eight hours a day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and when school is not in session; and
  • Six days a week.

Minors working more than six hours during a calendar day must receive an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes.

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, Massachusetts Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? Federal requirements can be found in Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal, Hours Worked: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Payment of Wages

Massachusetts employers are required to pay wages by cash, or by check redeemable at face value without discount or deduction. State consumer laws permit mandatory direct deposit of wages, but only if the employee is permitted to choose the financial institution into which his or her wages will be deposited.

Pay Statements

Massachusetts employers must provide employees with a pay slip, check stub or envelope showing the employer's and employee's names, the pay date, the number of hours worked, the hourly rate and the nature and amount of deductions or increases made for the pay period.

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.

Wage Deductions

An employer may make deductions from an employee's wages if required by state or federal law or court order, with the employee's written authorization or for other permissible reasons, including but not limited to child support withholding, creditor garnishments and tax levies.

Health Care Continuation

Under the Massachusetts health care continuation law, group health policies issued to employers with two 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. Massachusetts law mirrors the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (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 in Massachusetts can be found in Payment of Wages: Massachusetts, Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Massachusetts, Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Massachusetts, Massachusetts Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Massachusetts? Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal, Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Federal and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal.

Time Off and Leaves of Absence

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting time off and leaves of absence are:

Family and Medical Leave

The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (MPLA) applies to employers with six or more employees. It provides for up to eight weeks of unpaid leave 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.

Employees are eligible for the leave if they:

  • Are employed full-time; and
  • Have completed the initial probationary period set by the employer (not to exceed three months) or, if the employer does not have a probationary period, have been employed for at least three consecutive months.

Under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law (MESTL), eligible employees may take sick and safe leave for the following reasons:

  • Diagnosis, care or treatment of the employee's or a covered family member's illness, injury or medical condition;
  • Preventive care or routine medical appointments for the employee or a covered family member; and
  • To address the effects of domestic violence against the employee or the employee's child.

An employer with 11 or more employees must provide paid leave, while a smaller employer must provide unpaid leave.

An employee is eligible for sick and safe leave if his or her primary place of work is in Massachusetts, regardless of where the employer is located.

Other Time Off Requirements Affecting Massachusetts Employers

In addition to the MPLA and MESTL, a Massachusetts employer is also required to comply with other leave and time off laws, such as:

  • Small necessities leave (covering employers with 50 or more employees);
  • Domestic violence leave (covering employers with 50 or more employees);
  • Military leave;
  • Emergency responder leave;
  • Jury duty leave;
  • Court appearance leave;
  • Voting leave (covering employers in the manufacturing, mechanical and mercantile industries);
  • Time off on Veterans Day/Memorial Day; and
  • Day of rest requirements.

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

Health and Safety

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting health and safety are:

Smoke-Free Workplace

With limited exceptions, under the Massachusetts Smoke-Free Workplace Law, an employer must provide a smoke-free environment for all employees working in an enclosed workplace. "No smoking" signs must be prominently posted where smoking is prohibited.

Safe Driving Practices

All drivers are prohibited from texting and from writing, sending or reading electronic messages while operating a vehicle. Drivers over 18 may make or place calls, but using the device cannot interfere with driving and one hand must be on the wheel at all times. Drivers under 18 are banned from using cell phones for any purpose while operating a vehicle.

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

Organizational Exit

Key Massachusetts requirements impacting organizational exit are:

Final Pay

Final wages are due to employees as follows:

  • An employee who resigns must be paid in full by the following regular payday or, in the absence of a regular payday, by the following Saturday.
  • A terminated (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 for unused vacation time that they have earned.

Special rules apply if an employer owes wages to an employee who has died without a will.

Mass Layoff Notifications

Under Massachusetts law, any employer closing a facility (i.e., a plant, factory or other business location with 50 or more employees located within Massachusetts) must 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 occurred or will occur if at least 90 percent of the employees of a facility have been or will be terminated within six months (or another period chosen by the commissioner). Certification 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 Payment of Wages: Massachusetts and Involuntary Terminations: Massachusetts. Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal and Involuntary Terminations: Federal.