M.G.L. c. 136, §§ 5-6, 13-16; M.G.L. c. 149, §§ 45 and 51A
 

The Massachusetts Blue laws control hours of operation for certain businesses and require premium pay for some businesses on Sundays and some legal holidays.  

M.G.L. c. 136, § 6 contains exemptions from Blue Law restrictions for various retail and non-retail businesses.  Special rules also apply to factories and mills and to the sale of alcoholic beverages (M.G.L. 138, §§ 15 and 33B).  

The sections below provide general information to help both workers and employers understand these laws. 

These laws are enforced by the Attorney General's Office. The Department of Labor Standards has authority over the statewide approval of local permits allowing businesses to open on Columbus Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas when they otherwise could not open for some or all hours on those days. If you have questions about the statewide approval process, please contact the Department of Labor Standards’ Minimum Wage Program at 617-626-6952.

The Attorney General’s Office enforces the premium pay requirements when alcoholic beverage retailers may legally operate.  However, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission regulates when such businesses may be open.  If you have questions about when alcoholic beverage retailers may be open, please contact the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission at 617-727-3040.   

Sundays

Retail Establishments

Retailers may open at any time on Sunday without the need for approval by the Department of Labor Standards, and without the need for local police permit.  (To find out about permissible days and hours of operation for alcoholic beverage retailers, contact the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission at 617-727-3040.) See M.G.L. c. 136, § 7 and M.G.L. c. 136, § 6(52).

Certain retail establishments that operate on Sundays are subject to the following two restrictions:

Time and One-Half Pay
Most retailers that employ more than seven (7) workers, including the owner, are required to pay employees at least one and one-half (1.5) times their regular rate.  The higher rate does not need to be paid to bona fide executive, administrative and professional employees.

Voluntariness of Employment
Most retailers cannot require workers to work on Sunday, and an employer cannot punish or retaliate against a worker in any way for refusing to work on a Sunday.

Non-Retail Establishments

Generally, non-retail businesses cannot to operate on Sundays, unless they fall within one of the exemptions in M.G.L. c. 136, § 6. However, for all businesses, a permit for work on Sundays may be issued by the police chief of the city or town where the business is located. A permit may be issued only for “necessary work or labor which could not be performed on any other day without serious suffering, loss, damage or public inconvenience, or which could not be performed on any other day without delay to military defense work." M.G.L. c. 136, § 7.

Manufacturers

Generally, manufacturers are prohibited from opening on Sundays, without a permit granted under M.G.L. c. 136, § 7.  Additionally, manufacturers may petition the Attorney General for a temporary exemption from the Day of Rest Laws.  M.G.L. c. 149, § 51A.

The law provides a very limited exception when manufacturers can operate on Sundays, without a permit, as follows: “manufacturing processes which for technical reasons require continuous operations.  M.G.L. c. 136, § 6(6)


 

Holidays

If any business falls within one of the 55 exemptions in M.G.L. c. 136, § 6, which allow work on Sundays, it may also operate on most legal holidays. For example, restaurants [§ 6(42)], pharmacies [§ 6(27)] and hotels [§ 6(36)] may operate on holidays. For a complete list of exemptions and the legal holidays in Massachusetts, see M.G.L. c. 136, § 6 and G.L. c. 4, § 7(18).  See also M.G.L. c. 136, §§ 13 and 16.

Special rules also apply to factories and mills (see note below) and to the sale of alcoholic beverages (M.G.L. 138, §§ 15 and 33B).  Otherwise, the following rules apply:

Retail Establishments

Unrestricted Holidays: 
Work may be performed without a permit. Time and one-half pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do not apply.

  • Martin Luther King Day
  • President's Day
  • Evacuation Day
  • Patriots' Day
  • Bunker Hill Day

Partially Restricted Holidays: 
Work may be performed without a permit. Time and one-half pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do apply.

  • New Year's Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day after 12:00 noon
  • Veterans' Day after 1:00 p.m.

Restricted Holidays:
The Department of Labor Standards may issue uniform, statewide approval of permits for each of the following holidays. M.G.L. c. 136, § 15.  If the Department of Labor Standards issues a statewide approval, work may only be performed if the retailer has obtained a local police permit issued at the discretion of the local police chief.

  • Columbus Day before 12:00 noon*
  • Veterans' Day before 1:00 p.m.*
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

* Regardless of whether a permit is granted, time and one-half pay and voluntariness of employment requirements apply to work performed prior to 12:00 noon, and 1:00 p.m, respectively.

Non-Retail Establishments

Generally, most types of non-retail businesses may operate on the following legal holidays, without a permit or restrictions:

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King Day
  • President's Day
  • Evacuation Day
  • Patriots Day
  • Bunker Hill Day
  • Columbus Day after 12:00 noon
  • Veterans Day after 1:00 p.m.

Most non-retail businesses cannot operate on any other legal holidays, unless they fall within one of the exemptions in M.G.L. c. 136, §§ 4, 6 and/or § 14See also M.G.L. c. 140, § 181.

Manufacturers

Unrestricted Holidays:
Manufacturers may operate without a permit and time and one-half pay requirements for work performed do not apply:

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King Day
  • President's Day
  • Evacuation Day
  • Patriots Day
  • Bunker Hill Day
  • Columbus Day after 12:00 noon
  • Veterans Day after 1:00 p.m.

Restricted Holidays:
Unless granted a permit by the local police, under M.G.L. c. 136, § 15, manufacturers are generally prohibited from operating on the following legal holidays:

  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day before 12:00 noon
  • Veterans Day before 1:00 p.m.
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Although manufacturers may lawfully operate on legal holidays (assuming permits are obtained when necessary), M.G.L. c. 149, § 45. provides that employees cannot be required to work on those days.  The law provides a very limited exception when manufacturers can require work on holidays: when the work is both 1) " absolutely necessary" and 2) "can lawfully be performed on Sunday."  M.G.L. c. 149, § 45.