Restrictions on business openings on Sundays and legal holidays, commonly known as the Massachusetts Blue Laws, are enforced by the Attorney General's Office. This summary is intended to provide a general overview to help both employees and employers understand what is required by these laws.
- If you have questions about possible violations of these laws, please contact the Attorney General's Office, Fair Labor Division at 617-727-3465.
- If you have questions about statewide permit approval process for holiday openings, please contact the Minimum Wage Program of the Department of Labor Standards at 617-626-6952.
While this summary is designed to provide the general information you need, you can also refer to the statutes: M.G.L. Chapter 149, § 148 and "The Wage Act" and M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 6, which outlines the 55 exemptions from the general prohibition against businesses opening on Sundays. If a business does not fall under one or more of the statutory exemptions, it may not lawfully operate on Sundays, unless the employer is granted a one-day permit. M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 7.
While Massachusetts law bars many types of businesses from opening on Sundays, most retail establishments may open without a permit on Sundays. However, you would be well-served to check the provisions of the law if you have any questions. A business that is not covered by one of the exemptions may apply to the police chief in the city or town where that business is located for a one-day permit to work on Sunday. M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 7.
Since 1994, most retailers may open before 12:00 p.m. on Sundays, except for those engaged in the sale of alcoholic beverages. Please note that the AGO enforces the Sunday premium pay requirements, while the Commonwealth's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission ("ABCC") regulates when such business may open.
Special provisions, discussed below, which apply to certain retail establishments that choose to operate on Sundays, require payment of premium pay and prohibit employers from requiring employees to work on Sundays.
Time and One-Half Premium Pay and Voluntariness of Employment
As a general rule, if a retailer has more than 7 employees, then any nonexempt workers (meaning those employees who are not exempt administrative, executive, or professional employees under M.G.L. c. 151, § 1A (3)) must receive Sunday Premium Pay, at a rate of pay at least one and one-half times their regular hourly rate. M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 6 (50). However, regardless of whether an employee is exempt from premium pay, employers covered by the statute cannot require employees to work on Sunday, and an employee's refusal to work may not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, reduction in hours, or any other penalty. M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 6 (50).
A retail employer who fails to pay Sunday premium pay as required may be fined up to $1,000. M.G.L. Chapter 136, §§ 6 (50) and (52); M.G.L. Chapter 149, § 180A. Additionally, a retail employer who requires an employee to work on Sunday may be fined up to $1,000. M.G.L. Chapter 136, §§ 6 (50) and (52); M.G.L. Chapter 149, § 180A.
Holiday Opening Laws
A number of holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, are recognized as legal holidays under Massachusetts law. M.G.L. c. 4, § 7, cl. 18th. Massachusetts law specifies the kind of work that may be performed and the type of establishments that may operate on each holiday, and under what circumstances. M.G.L. c. 136, §§ 13-16; M.G.L. c. 149, § 45. Please note that certain types of businesses (such as alcoholic beverage retailers, factories, gas stations, and pharmacies) are subject to different restrictions than other types of establishments. This summary focuses on the restrictions that generally apply to retailers.
Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
Thanksgiving Day is observed on the fourth Thursday in November. Christmas Day is observed on December 25, or, if it falls on a Sunday, it is officially celebrated on the following Monday. M.G.L. c. 4, § 7, cl. 18th. Most retail stores may not open on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, and Massachusetts law specifies the limited categories of establishments that may open on those holidays. These include, for example, convenience stores, gas stations, and florists. When Christmas falls on a Sunday, retailers cannot operate on that day unless otherwise exempt. M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 6 (50).
New Year's Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans' Day
New Year's Day is observed on January 1, or if it falls on a Sunday, it is officially celebrated on the following Monday. M.G.L. c. 4, § 7, cl. 18th. Any retail store may open at any time on New Year's Day without a permit. M.G.L. c. 136, § 13.
However, no retailer may open on Columbus Day prior to 12:00 noon or before 1:00 p.m. on Veteran's Day, unless statewide approval has been granted by the Division of Occupational Safety, and the retailer has obtained a local police permit. M.G.L. Chapter 136, §15.
Any retail store that operates on New Year's Day, Columbus Day, and Veteran's Day must pay holiday premium pay rate of at least one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay to each nonexempt employee who works on these holidays. This rate of pay must be paid, regardless of how many employees work in the store on these three holidays. M.G.L. c. 136, § 13. Failure to pay time and one half may result in a fine. Additionally, no retail employer may require an employee to work on New Year's Day, Columbus Day or Veteran's Day, and any employer who discharges, dismisses, discriminates against, reduces hours of, or otherwise penalizes an employee for not working in a retail store on these holidays may be fined up to $1,000. M.G.L. c. 136, § 13; M.G.L. c. 149, § 180A.
Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day
Independence Day is observed on the fourth day of July, or if it falls on a Sunday, it is officially celebrated on the following Monday. M.G.L. c. 4, § 7, cl. 18th. Generally, if a retailer has more than 7 employees, then any nonexempt workers (meaning those employees who are not exempt administrative, executive, or professional employees), must be paid for any time worked on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day at a rate of pay at least one and one-half times their regular hourly rate. M.G.L. Chapter 136, § 16. A retail employer covered by this section who fails to pay holiday premium pay as required, or requires an employee to work, may be fined as provided in M.G.L. Chapter 149, § 180A.
The following holidays are unrestricted holidays which mean that neither premium pay (time and one half) nor voluntariness requirements apply: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, Evacuation Day, Patriots' Day, and Bunker Hill Day.
Holiday Opening Laws for Manufacturing Establishments
Although manufacturers may lawfully operate on legal holidays (assuming permits are obtained when necessary), M.G.L. Chapter 149, §45 establishes that employees cannot be required to work on those days, but instead must be given the option to work or not. The law provides a limited exception when manufacturers can require work on holidays. If you have any concerns in this regard, please contact the AGO.
Unrestricted and Restricted Holidays for Manufacturing Facilities
Manufacturers may operate on certain holidays, without a permit, and on other restricted holidays must obtain a permit from the local police department.
On unrestricted holidays, the operator of the facility does not need to obtain a permit, no premium pay is required, and voluntariness provisions do not apply. The unrestricted holidays are:
New Year's Day
Martin Luther King Day
Bunker Hill Day
Columbus Day after 12:00 noon
Veterans Day after 1:00 p.m.
For restricted holidays, the operator of the manufacturing facility must obtain a permit in order to lawfully operate. There are limitations on when such a permit may be granted. Restricted holidays for manufacturing facilities are:
Columbus Day before 12:00 noon
Veterans Day before 1:00 p.m.