The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office’s work as the People’s Law Firm continues amidst the Coronavirus public health emergency. The AG’s Office is warning Massachusetts residents to be on alert for individuals and businesses that may try to take advantage of uncertainty about COVID-19.
The AG’s hotlines will still be fully staffed during the regular hours. Walk-ins to the AG’s physical office locations will not receive in-person service. Walk-ins will be encouraged to file complaints online or call our office. This page will continue to be updated so check back for new info.
Guide RESOURCES DURING COVID-19
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office’s work as the People’s Law Firm continues amidst the Coronavirus public health emergency. The AG’s Office is warning Massachusetts residents to be on alert for individuals and businesses that may try to take advantage of uncertainty about COVID-19.
Table of Contents
Your rights as an employee
Earned Sick Time
In order to contain the outbreak and protect people with compromised immunities, it is critical to stay home if you are feeling sick. Most workers in Massachusetts have the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year. Under state laws, workers must earn at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. More details about the earned sick time law can be found here. If you think your employer is violating the earned sick time law, call the AG’s Fair Labor Division at 617-727-3465 or file a complaint online. For more information on what leave and benefit options you may have available if you need to quarantine, please visit this page on the Rights For Quarantined Essential Workers.
You are legally entitled to a safe and healthy workplace. While COVID-19 is part of all of our daily lives right now, there are some things your employer must do to keep you safe at work. Your employer must follow these safety standards for workplaces to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions among workers and customers. Before they are allowed to reopen, all businesses in Massachusetts must develop a written plan for how they will comply with these mandatory standards. A template has been developed to assist businesses in certifying they have and will continue to meet the required standards for operation. Employers must also post a compliance poster where employees and customers can see it. Employers have the option to print and display Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces posters for workers and customers within the workplace. Lastly, certain industries must also comply with stricter safety rules. These industries are: construction, manufacturing, laboratories, hair salons, barbershops, car washes, pet grooming and office spaces.
If you would like to report an unsafe working condition related to COVID-19, such as a lack of social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), hygiene protocols or cleaning and disinfection, please file a COVID Complaint with the Department of Labor Standards. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for making a complaint about an unsafe working condition.
Additional Resources for Your rights as an employee
Multilingual resources on earned sick time
Here are some resources about the earned sick time law in Massachusetts.
Aquí hay algunos recursos sobre la ley de licencia de enfermedad acumulada en Massachusetts.
Alguns recursos sobre a lei de licença médica em Massachusetts.
Additional Resources for Multilingual resources on earned sick time
Protect yourself from scams and fraud
Fears about the coronavirus are on the rise and so are those looking to capitalize on uncertainty about its impact in Massachusetts. The AG’s Office encourages residents to follow these tips:
- Watch out for high-priced or low-quality products: Our consumer protection law Chapter 93A prohibits unfair and deceptive business practices. The AG’s Office is watching retailers that inflate prices on products like hand sanitizer and face masks very closely. Report unreasonably high prices to the AG’s Office by filing a complaint online. On March 20, the AG’s Office filed an emergency regulation expanding the definition of price gouging to include of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency.
- Be on alert for coronavirus-related scams: Scammers may try to steal your money and personal information by sending phony calls, emails, and texts. Ignore them and don’t open anything from an unfamiliar sender. Report scammers to the AG’s Office.
- Beware of false and misleading information: Visit reputable sources for updates on the coronavirus:
- Consider seeking a refund for cancelled travel: The AG’s Office may be able to help mediate requests for refunds from trips that have been cancelled because of COVID-19. File a complaint online if you’re having trouble getting your money back.
- Look out for unauthorized or fraudulent charities or solicitations: Do your homework before donating to a coronavirus charity to make sure the charity is legitimate. Never donate by cash and don’t be pressured into making a contribution. Visit the AG’s giving wisely webpage for more information.
Health care and insurance
If you have a problem with health insurance claims or medical bills or think you might be the victim of a scam, the AG’s Health Care Division may be able to help. Call our helpline with questions or complaints at 1-888-830-6277.
If you lost your job and your health insurance, you may be eligible for low-cost (or no-cost) health insurance through the Health Connector. Enrollment has been extended for uninsured individuals through April 25. Apply by March 23, for coverage that starts on April 1. More info here.
If you have health insurance through the Connector, but are making less money than usual, you may be able to reduce your monthly premium. Update your existing Connector profile to reflect your current income by 3/23 to see if you qualify for a lower premium due on 4/1. If the premium is still too high, please request a premium hardship waiver.
The Governor has ordered health insurers to expand coverage of telehealth services in general and to cover services relating to COVID-19 testing and treatment without cost-sharing by patients. The full order is available here.
In-home health and disability services
On April 27, AG Healey released guidance on disability rights during the pandemic. The guidance lays out accommodations that may be necessary in workplaces, apartment buildings, hospitals, and stores that remain open to the public.
For complaints regarding failure to accommodate individuals with disabilities, contact our Civil Rights Division at (617) 963-2917 or online.
Child care and other resources for families
The COVID-19 crisis has put a strain on our early education system, causing hardship for both families and child care programs. Many families are struggling with ongoing child care costs, a strain felt particularly by families whose incomes have been reduced or lost entirely. At the same time, child care programs are struggling to stay afloat. As a state, we need to ensure that these programs, which play a crucial role in the lives of children and families and in our economy more broadly, are able to open and operate when we emerge from this crisis, and without some source of income, programs may be forced to close for good. We also need to ensure that some programs can remain open to serve our hospital workers, first-responders, grocery store and pharmacy clerks, public transit employees, and others who continue to work and serve.
For child care programs that are continuing to charge tuition, the AGO urges programs to work with families toward a fair and reasonable resolution. In all cases, programs must abide by the existing contract with parents. If, under an existing contract, parents have the right to cancel services and/or obtain a refund of any tuition that they have already paid, programs should honor those rights. Programs should not penalize families who may be under financial stress because of the current crisis.
In addition, programs should be aware of financial assistance to cover ongoing payroll, rent, and other costs, offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and/or other small business assistance. PPP and other federal relief programs have become available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress on March 27, 2020. Entities eligible for PPP include businesses and 501(c)(3) non-profits with fewer than 500 employees and individuals who operate a sole proprietorship or as an independent contractor or who are self-employed. More information is available from the SBA here and from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here.
Financial relief should help programs offer flexibility to families and reduce financial pressure to continue to charge tuition. Programs may want to communicate with families about plans for seeking financial support and, if awarded, provide an explanation of its impact on tuition and refunds.
The AGO is encouraged by the work of Congress to help our state address the early education crisis for families and programs. Because provisions of the CARES Act offer a financial lifeline for child care programs, we hope and expect that the recent hardships felt by both families and programs will be mitigated.
If you continue to have concerns and wish to file a complaint with our office, please complete our online complaint form.
We will keep updating this page as more information becomes available.
Project Bread has a hunger help-line and comprehensive listing of school meal sites. You can also visit the Greater Boston Food Bank for nutritional resources. Mass. Law Reform Institute has information to help families with questions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (also known as food stamps) and cash benefits.
Both domestic violence and child welfare concerns are heightened in times of stress, and even more so with school closures and social distancing. The Children’s Trust has a good list of resources around domestic and family violence issues as well as support for parents.
Emergency family shelter may become necessary for some families who are facing a housing crisis or fleeing domestic violence.
The National Association of School Psychologists has good resources for talking to kids about COVID-19.
If you or your children are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by this crisis, check out these resources for assistance. We all need help sometimes.
- Call Massachusetts 211. This statewide phone service is a centralized hub for information, offers multilingual services, and can connect you with a variety of resources.
- Contact your local Family Resource Center (FRC). FRCs are a statewide network of community-based providers offering multi-cultural parenting programs, support groups, early childhood services, information and referral resources and education for families whose children range in age from birth to 18 years of age.
- Search Massachusetts Network of Care. They can help you find mental health and substance use resources for children and adults.
Resources for immigrant communities
We know that this is a particularly difficult time for our immigrant communities, many of whom have been hard hit by job losses and some of whom are not eligible for relief recently offered by the federal government. We will update this page with resources and information, and we will continue to advocate for our immigrant communities.
Health care and health benefits
If you are sick with COVID-19-like symptoms or know that you have been exposed to the virus, do not hesitate to seek medical advice and care, regardless of your immigration status or insurance coverage.
Massachusetts provides resources to pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment for low-income Massachusetts residents, regardless of their immigration status. For example, MassHealth Limited is available on an emergency basis to all Massachusetts residents who do not qualify for public health insurance programs due to their immigration status, and will cover the costs of testing and treatment for COVID-19. The Commonwealth’s Health Safety Net program is also available to qualifying low-income Massachusetts residents no matter their immigration status, and will pay for testing and treatment for COVID-19 provided by hospitals and community health centers.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued guidance encouraging everyone with symptoms that resemble COVID-19 to seek necessary medical care. USCIS has said that COVID-19 tests and treatment will not be considered for Public Charge decisions. Also, the Public Charge analysis does not apply to most noncitizens and most health care insurance programs, including MassHealth Limited and the Health Safety Net, do not count for the Public Charge analysis. For more information about the applicability of Public Charge, visit the Protecting Immigrant Families Know Your Rights Page.
Importantly, federal and state privacy laws require health care providers to keep patients’ personal information confidential.
For more resources, please view our COVID-19 Resources for Immigrants and Refugees page.
Students and student borrowers
The recently signed CARES Act suspends payments and waives interest for federal student loans held by the U.S. Department of Education through September 30, 2020. The U.S. Department of Education began waiving interest on federal student loans on March 13, 2020.
If borrowers continue making payments during the COVID-19 interest waiver and payment suspension period, those payments will be fully applied to loan principal, once any interest that was outstanding as of March 13, 2020 is paid off. For borrowers seeking loan forgiveness or to rehabilitate their defaulted loans, the CARES Act states that each monthly payment suspended between March 27, 2020 and September 30, 2020 will be counted as if a payment had been made for the purpose of any loan forgiveness or rehabilitation program. In addition, the Act directs that federal student loan servicers cannot report the suspended payments as missed or late payments to credit reporting agencies.
For borrowers with defaulted federal student loans, the CARES Act is also stopping involuntary collection activities through September 30, 2020, including wage garnishments, social security benefit offsets, and tax refund interceptions. Additionally, payments are suspended for borrowers enrolled in rehabilitation plans.
Borrowers should receive information about these changes from their servicers by the middle of April. The CARES Act requires that the servicers explain to borrowers the actions they have taken to suspend payments on loans, the waiver of interest, the option each borrower has to continue making payments to lessen the principal balance of their loans, the suspension of involuntary collection on defaulted loans, and that the six month suspension of payments is a temporary program.
The Attorney General’s Student Loan Assistance Unit is available to help borrowers explore repayment options. The Attorney General’s Office also continues to advocate for more relief for struggling student loan borrowers.
Protecting your civil rights
People who face discrimination or hate incidents based on their ethnicity or national origin should contact the Civil Rights Division. We know there may be COVID-19-related backlash in particular against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Discrimination and hate cannot be tolerated. Our Civil Rights Division can be reached at (617) 963-2917 and online here.
The safety measures required by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a huge impact on small businesses in Massachusetts. Many have been forced to close or are dealing with a major decline in revenue. If your small business has suffered during this crisis, you may want to consider taking the following steps:
- Look for Grants and Loans
- Review Your Insurance Coverage
- Review Your Lease or Commercial Mortgage
- Consider Cutting Expenses
For full details, please visit the Attorney General's Assisting Small Businesses guide.
Our office has an FAQ for employer obligations and employee rights during COVID-19, which you can read here.
Employers with questions about PPP and unemployment benefits can find more information here.
Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Resources
Services and support are available for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and when you are ready to access them.
- Call SafeLink, a 24/7 statewide domestic violence and sexual assault referral hotline, at 1-877-785-2020.
- The Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance offers free resources for victims, survivors and providers at 844-878-MOVA or mass.gov/askMOVA.
- If you have experienced domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available 24/7. Text LOVEIS to 22522, call 1-800-799-7233, or visit thehotline.org/help.
- If you have experienced sexual violence, you can get access to confidential services, including a sexual assault kit, at no cost. Visit this site for more information and to find local resources in your area: janedoe.org/find_help.
- If you or someone you know has been the victim of a violent crime, you get an application for the Victim Compensation program here. For help with the application, please call 617-963-2160.
For more information on how to obtain an abuse protection order, visit here.
The state moratorium on evictions ended on October 17, 2020. You may still be protected from some types of evictions by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium through January 31, 2020. To receive protection under the CDC moratorium, you must submit a declaration stating that you meet the following criteria:
- You have tried your hardest to apply for any available separate government rental assistance;
- You meet certain income requirements;
- You can’t pay rent because you have lost substantial household income due to a layoff or reduced work hours, OR you have “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses (these DO NOT have to be related to COVID-19);
- You are trying to make partial rent payments as close to the full amount due as possible; and
- If you were evicted you would become homeless or you would have to move in with a friend or family member
You can access the declaration here.
If you meet these criteria, make sure every adult living in your household or on your lease gives your landlord a signed declaration form. Don’t be intimidated because the declaration must be signed under oath, this just means you are signing the form honestly and to the best of your knowledge. Keep a copy of the declaration you gave to your landlord.
If you qualify for protection under the CDC eviction moratorium, your landlord can still begin an eviction case in court but, depending on the reason your landlord is evicting you, you cannot forced to leave your home until after January 31, 2020. You still need to attend any court hearings and may need to confirm that you meet the CDC moratorium requirements in a court hearing. Your landlord cannot evict you without a court order for any reason.
Under the CDC eviction moratorium, you are still obligated to pay rent and you will still be responsible for any rent owed.
If you can’t pay your rent, you should work with your landlord to seek financial help from the state. You can find more information about the types of rental assistance available here. You cannot be evicted if you have a rental assistance application pending. Specifically, the court cannot “enter a judgment” against you or “issue an execution” before your financial assistance application has been approved or denied.
If your landlord attempts to make you leave your home without a court order or if your landlord is trying to evict you because of a notice to quit you received prior to October 17, 2020, please fill out this form for help from the Attorney General’s Office. You may also use this form to request help if you are being evicted and need help applying for rental assistance.
There is more information about your rights as a tenant available here.
The CDC moratorium on evictions does not stop foreclosures. If you are a homeowner living in the property after foreclosure you are protected from certain types of evictions under the CDC order just like any other tenant. If you have a mortgage that is owned or insured by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA, those agencies have stopped foreclosures through the end of the year. You should contact your mortgage servicer (the company that sends you mortgage statements) to understand what protections may apply to your loan and what forms of relief might be available.
If you received a forbearance on your mortgage and it is expiring soon or you are unable to make mortgage payments, reach out to your servicer. There may be additional assistance your servicer can provide if you are unable to make your mortgage payments.
Many residents are struggling to pay their bills, including their monthly utility bills. Electricity, gas, and water are essential services—that’s why it is important that customers know their rights and where they can go for help if they need it.
Electric and Gas
Due to the pandemic, the DPU has extended the current moratorium on residential electric and gas shut-offs through April 1, 2021 for customers of investor-owned utility companies, e.g, Eversource, National Grid, Liberty Utilities, Berkshire Gas and Unitil. It is important, however, not to fall behind on your bills. If you are a residential customer struggling to pay your utility bills or behind on your payments, reach out to your utility service provider to discuss available payment plans and payment assistance programs that may be available. Paying what you can will help you avoid large balances and shut-off once the moratorium ends. Residential customers making payments under payment plans with their investor-owned electric or gas utility will remain protected from shut-off after the moratorium ends on April 1 for the duration of the payment plan.
If you receive residential electric or gas service through a municipal utility, most municipal utilities have agreed to suspend shut-offs until April 1, 2021. Call your municipal utility to find out its shut-off policy and what other help it can offer, including any payment plan programs.
If you are a small business customer, the moratorium on electric and gas shut-offs for commercial customers ended on August 31, 2020. If you are behind on your payments or fear your business will be shut-off, please reach out to your utility to discuss available payment plans. Your small business may also be eligible for an arrearage forgiveness plan. Call your utility today to find out more information and to see if your business qualifies. If you enroll in a payment plan with your investor-owned electric or gas utility company and make your payments, you will be protected from service disconnection for the duration of your payment plan.
Due to the pandemic, the DPU has extended the moratorium on residential shut-offs for customers of investor-owned water utility companies until April 1, 2021. If you are not sure what type of water utility provides your water service, click here and scroll to Exhibit C to see the list of water companies that must comply with the moratorium. If you receive water service through your municipality, call your municipality to see if they are voluntarily complying with the moratorium on residential shut-offs or to inquire about other payment assistance programs that may be available.
It is important, however, not to fall behind on your bills. Paying what you can will help avoid large balances and shut-off once the moratorium ends. If you are a customer struggling to pay your water bills or behind on your payments, reach out to your water utility or water service provider to discuss payment plans and any other assistance that may be available.
For more information, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions about Electric and Gas, and Water utilities pages.
Advocacy & Other Actions
Personal Protective Equipment
AG Healey called on the Trump Administration to immediately launch an initiative to rapidly shift existing domestic manufacturing capacity to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep health care workers safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More info here.
Open Meeting Law
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, an emergency order has modified the Open Meeting Law, to enable public bodies to carry out their responsibilities while adhering to public health recommendations regarding social distancing. More info here. Contact the Division of Open Government with questions at (617) 963-2540 or file a complaint online.
Shelter in Place Guidance
AG Healey issued guidance to municipalities considering shelter in place orders. More info is available here.
Emergency Regulation on Price Gouging
On March 20th, the AG’s Office filed an emergency regulation expanding the definition of price gouging to include of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency. The regulation amends regulation 940 CMR 3:18, which had previously only regulated price gouging related to the sale of gasoline and other petroleum products.
Information about Health Club Memberships
While closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many health clubs and gyms are offering to freeze membership and/or charge a reduced fee to maintain your membership. Some clubs are offering online classes to members while their physical locations are closed. Please contact your individual health club to learn if any of these options are available to you.
Massachusetts law gives you the right to cancel any contract you may have with a health club if the club “substantially changes the operation of the health club or location.” If your health club or gym has closed because of the COVID-19 epidemic, it is the view of the Attorney General’s Office that this is a substantial change to the operation of the club, and you are entitled to cancel your contract, if you wish to do so. This applies to gyms, health spas, sports, tennis, racquet ball, platform tennis and health clubs, figure salons, health studios, weight control centers or studios, martial arts and self-defense schools, or any other similar course of physical training.
While you have the right to cancel your contract, some clubs and gyms are offering other options for their members short of cancellation, as noted above. You may want to consider whether maintaining or freezing your membership is a better option for you than cancelling your contract. If you do cancel your contract, and want to rejoin your club at a later date, it is possible your club may require you to enter a new contract and/or pay a new membership fee.
If you do wish to cancel your health club contract, you should contact your club and tell them you wish to cancel your contract, not place your contract on hold or freeze it or any other option. If you can, you should tell your club in writing that you wish to cancel. Once you cancel your contract, your club should not charge you any additional fees. If you have prepaid any part of the contract, you are entitled to a pro-rata refund for the remaining period on your contract within fifteen business days.
Emergency Regulation on Debt Collection
The AG’s office filed an emergency regulation designed to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive debt collection practices during the COVID-19 crisis.
The new regulation prohibits creditors from engaging in methods of debt collection that can require people to leave their homes or have in-person contact, including:
- filing any new collection lawsuit;
- garnishing wages, earnings, properties or funds;
- repossessing vehicles;
- applying for or serving a capias warrant;
- visiting or threatening to visit the household of a debtor;
- visiting or threatening to visit the place of employment of a debtor;
- confronting or communicating in person with a debtor regarding the collection of a debt in any public place.
The AG’s emergency regulation also prohibits debt collection agencies and debt buyers from making unsolicited debt collection telephone calls to consumers. FAQs available here.
Guidance to Municipalities
On April 15th, the Attorney General’s Office issued guidance to municipalities on some of the most commonly asked questions about their legal authority during the COVID-19 crisis. Covered in the guidance were questions on implementing curfews, issuing advisories, and delaying town meetings. This guidance was updated on April 27th. The updated guidance is available here.
Guidance on Serving Time-Sensitive Initial Pleadings, Complaints, and Summonses in Cases Against State Agencies or Officials on the Attorney General’s Office During the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Advisory Period
Under the current circumstances, the AGO advises that in-hand service of process on the AGO pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3) is not feasible given the minimal staffing levels in the office and the inaccessibility of the building to the general public. Instead, the AGO advises that the most efficient way to serve the AGO (as well as any Commonwealth agency) and/or the Attorney General with a new complaint and summons is by certified or registered mail in accordance with Mass. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3). The AGO has established the email address below to receive service of emergency or time-sensitive court filings pertaining to lawsuits against the Commonwealth, its agencies, or officials. Submission to this email address is not intended to supersede the service requirements of Mass. R. Civ. P. 4. For “non-emergency” matters and motions pertaining to ongoing cases, all other motions, filings or pleadings should be served in the normal course, as provided by the applicable rules and/or as allowed by the current Court Orders issued in response to COVID-19. The electronic mail address for receipt of courtesy copies of emergency filings and new complaints is: firstname.lastname@example.org . Further guidance on serving emergency or time-sensitive pleadings, complaints, and summonses in cases against state agencies or officials on the Attorney General’s Office during the COVID-19 stay-at-home advisory period can be found here. Please read in full before submission.