The Massachusetts Blue Laws
 

The guide below is provided for general informational purposes to help both employees and employers understand the laws in this area. The Massachusetts Blue Laws are enforced by the Office of the Attorney General. If you have questions about possible violations of these laws, please contact the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division at 617-727-3465.

The Department of Labor Standards has authority over the statewide approval of local permits for openings on four holidays. If you have questions about the statewide approval process, please contact the Department of Labor Standards’ Minimum Wage Program at 617-626-6952.

SUNDAYS

A. RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS

Due to a 1994 change in the laws, retailers are no longer restricted to opening at 12:00 noon and may open at any time on Sundays without the need for approval by the Department of Labor, and without the need for a local police permit. See M.G.L. c. 136, § 7 and M.G.L. c. 136, § 16.

M.G.L. c. 136, § 6 contains exemptions from Blue Law restrictions for certain retail and non-retail businesses. If a business falls within one of these 55 exemptions, the following restrictions do not apply. Otherwise, any retail establishment which operates on Sundays is subject to the following two restrictions:

1. Time and One-Half Pay
Retailers that employ more than seven (7) persons, including the owner, are required to compensate employees who work on Sundays, except for bona fide executive, administrative and professional employees, at a rate of pay not less than one and one-half times their regular rate.

2. Voluntariness of Employment
Regardless of the number of employees, retailers 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.

B. NON-RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS

Unless a non-retail business falls within one of the exemptions in M.G.L. c. 136, § 6, it is not allowed to operate on Sundays. 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. Additionally, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 149, § 51A, manufacturers may petition the Attorney General for a temporary exemption from the Sunday work restriction.

HOLIDAYS

If a retail or non-retail business falls within one of the 55 exemptions in Chapter 136, it may operate on holidays. For example, restaurants [§ 6(42)], pharmacies [§ 6(27)] and hotels [§ 6(36)] may operate on holidays. For a complete list of exemptions, see M.G.L. c. 136, § 6.

However, if the non-retail business is a factory or mill, employees may not be required to work on legal holidays pursuant to M.G.L. 149, § 45 unless the work is "absolutely necessary and can be legally performed on Sunday." (*See manufacturers note below under non-retail.) Therefore, manufacturing employees must voluntarily agree to work.

Otherwise, the following rules apply:

A. 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 (DLS) may issue uniform, statewide approval of permits for each of the following holidays. M.G.L. c. 136, §15.  If DLS 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

* If a permit is granted, time and one-half pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do apply.

B. NON-RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS (*Manufacturers see note below for special rules)

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

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

* MANUFACTURERS NOTE: Although manufacturers may lawfully stay open on legal holidays (assuming permits are obtained when necessary), M.G.L. c. 149, § 45 establishes that non-exempt employees cannot be required to work on those days, but instead must be given the option to work or not. M.G.L. c. 149, § 45 states:

Whoever requires an employee to work in any mill or factory on any legal holiday, except to perform such work as is both absolutely necessary and can lawfully be performed on Sunday, shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifteen hundred dollars.

The law provides a very limited exception to when manufacturers can require work on holidays, as follows: if the manufacturing work being performed is both 1) " absolutely necessary" and 2) "can lawfully be performed on Sunday" meaning that "for technical reasons [it] require[s] continuous operation …," employees can be required to work. M.G.L. c. 136, § 6(6). Otherwise work must be voluntary.