According to Massachusetts labor laws, the standard minimum wage is $11.00 per hour. However, as an employer or an employee, there are a number of exceptions to this standard that you should be aware of, affected by employee status, and also by the Massachusetts Blue Laws.
For tipped employees, which mean employees whose tips and/or service charges usually come to at least $20 per month, the minimum wage is $3.75 per hour.
To protect tipped employees, there are three important conditions that must be satisfied before an employer is permitted to pay his or her employees this service rate of $3.75 per hour. These requirements are the employer’s responsibility, and they are as follows:
- The employer must ensure that the employee is fully informed about what their rights and entitlements are as a tipped employee.
- When the tips an employee receives and the wage they receive from their employer are combined, the total must equal at least the standard minimum wage.
- If the employer opts for a system whereby each employee keeps the tips they make directly from customers, then each employee must receive all of the tips they make, i.e. the employer is not entitled to any proportion of the tips. The employer is entitled, however, to require all employees to share their tips using a tip pooling system. If the employer chooses to enforce a tip sharing or pooling arrangement, it is their responsibility to ensure that the tips are only distributed between service employees, service bartenders and wait staff. It is also the employer’s responsibility to make sure that all tips are distributed fairly, in proportion to the service all of the employees who are part of the tip pool are providing.
As well as tipped employees, there are a number of other employees who can legally be paid less than the standard minimum wage in Massachusetts.
The first group to note is employees who have disabilities. If the Department of Labor and Workforce issues a certificate stating that a person’s earning capacity is limited by disability, either physical or mental, that person’s employer may pay them less than the standard minimum wage.
There are a number of groups who are not entitled to the full minimum wage because they have not yet reached their full earning potential, as they are still in training. Employers who take on trainee students or apprentices as part of a formal training program can apply for a license that will allow them to pay their trainees and/or apprentices less than the standard minimum wage, as long as the amount they are paid is no less than 80% of the standard. These licenses are issued by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for a specific period of time, usually the duration of the student’s traineeship or apprenticeship.
Similarly, student workers can be paid a minimum of 80% of the standard minimum wage. The term ‘student worker’ refers to students who are registered at educational institutions including colleges, schools and universities, and who are also employed by the institution at which they are studying, as well as to students working as camp counsellors or trainee camp counsellors. The same 80% minimum rule also applies to learners, and, as with trainees and apprentices, an employer can only pay such employees less than the standard minimum wage after they have obtained a license allowing them to do so from the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce development.
It should be noted, here, that student learners are exempt from this 80% minimum rule; they are entitled to the full standard minimum wage.
As well as cases where employees in Massachusetts can be paid less than the standard minimum wage, there are also instances where they must be paid more, and where there are restrictions on when an employee can be required to work.
If an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, their employer is required by law to pay them at least 1.5 times their usual rate of pay for all of the time worked in excess of 40 hours.
Massachusetts Blue Laws, also known as Sunday Laws, are laws that limit the amount of time an employer can oblige his or her employees to work, and in some cases that mean employees are entitled to more than their usual rate of pay if they do elect to work on such days. Specifically, the restrictions are on holidays and, as the name suggests, Sundays.
All retail establishments are allowed to open and operate at any time on Sundays, except for those selling alcohol, which cannot open prior to 10 a.m. However, except for these 55 exemptions, all retailers operating on a Sunday must adhere to the following restrictions:
- If the retailer employs more than seven people, all employees except for executive, professional and administrative staff must be paid at least 1.5 times their usual salary.
- If employees do not wish to work on Sundays, their employer cannot force them to. To protect employees who want to keep their Sunday as a day of rest, refusing to work on a Sunday cannot legally be grounds used by an employer for dismissal, reduction in hours, or any other punishment.
The rules are different for non-retail establishments. Unless a non-retail business falls under one of these exemptions, it is not allowed to operate on Sundays without a permit from the police chief of the town or city where the business is located.
Some businesses are exempt from holiday restrictions, such as pharmacies, hotels and restaurants – you can see a full list of exempt businesses here. However, if the business is a factory or mill, employers are not allowed to insist that their employees work unless the work is “absolutely necessary and can be legally performed on Sunday.” This means that manufacturing employees are not under any obligation to work on legal holidays, and so any manufacturing employees working such holidays must do so voluntarily.
As with Sundays, the laws are different for retail and non-retail businesses regarding holidays.
Holidays that are unrestricted, that is, a permit is not required for business to operate, employers can legally require their employees to work, and employees are not entitled to any more than their usual salary, for retail establishments are:
- Martin Luther King Day
- President’s Day
- Evacuation Day
- Patriots’ Day
- Bunker Hill Day
And for non-retail establishments, these unrestricted holidays are all of the above, plus New Year’s Day, Columbus Day after 12:00 noon, and Veteran’s Day after 1:00 p.m.
For retail establishments, there are laws applicable to a number of both partially and fully restricted holidays. Partially restricted holidays are:
- New Year’s Day
- Memorial Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Columbus Day after 12:00 noon
- Veterans’ Day after 1:00 p.m.
On these days, retail establishments are allowed to operate without a permit, but staff cannot be obliged to work by their employer, and, if they do agree to work voluntarily they must be paid at least 1.5 times their usual salary.
On restricted holidays, which, for retail establishments are:
- Columbus Day before 12:00 noon
- Veterans’ Day before 1:00 p.m.
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day
A retail business can only operate on these days if:
- the Department of Labor Standards issues a state-wide approval that work is permitted on a particular holiday; AND
- The local police chief issues the retailer with a permit allowing their particular business to operate.
If both of these requirements are met, if the retail business is operating on Columbus Day before 12:00 noon or on Veteran’s Day before 1:00 p.m., staff cannot be obliged be work, and those who voluntarily agree must be paid 1.5 times their usual wages. These laws of voluntariness of employment and time-and-a-half pay do not apply, however, to Thanksgiving or to Christmas.
For non-retail businesses, restricted holidays are the four restricted for retail businesses, plus Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. On these days, non-retail businesses need a local police permit to operate, however, provided the necessary permit(s) have been obtained, employers can require their employees to work on these days, and are not obliged to pay them any more than their usual rate of pay.