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Massachusetts blue laws

Restrictions on business openings on Sundays and holidays, also known as the Massachusetts blue laws, are enforced by the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division.

If you have questions about possible violations of these laws, please contact the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division at (617) 727-3465.

If you have questions about statewide approval of local permits for holiday openings, contact the Department of Labor Standards' Minimum Wage Program at (617) 626-6952.

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 a local police permit, except for retailers of alcoholic beverages, which may not open until 10 a.m. on Sunday. 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 1 of these 55 exemptions, the following restrictions do not apply. Any retail establishment which operates on Sundays is subject to the following 2 restrictions:

1. Premium pay

Retailers that employ more than 7 people, including the owner, are required to compensate employees who work on Sundays, except for bona fide executive, administrative, and professional employees, at a premium rate. 

Sundays-Retail Establishments:
Sunday Premium pay which is based on an employee's "regular rate of pay" has been reduced from 1.5 times the regular rate and is being phased out over time as follows: 

January 1, 2019 1.4 times hourly rate;
January 1, 2020 1.3 times hourly rate;
January 1, 2021 1.2 times hourly rate;
January 1, 2022 1.1 times hourly rate;
January 1, 2023 1.0 times hourly rate.

    See the United States Department of Labor Fact Sheet, where an employee in a single workweek works at two or more different pay rates in order to calculate the proper overtime rate of pay:  https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs23.pdf.

    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.

    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 1 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:

    Retail establishments

    Unrestricted holidays: 

    • Work may be performed without a permit. Premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do not apply.

              Martin Luther King Day
              Presidents Day
              Evacuation Day
              Patriots Day
              Bunker Hill Day

    Partially-restricted holidays: 

    • Work may be performed without a permit. Premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do apply. Premium pay rates vary depending on the holiday. Retailers with more than 7 workers must pay premium rates as follows: 

    Holiday Premium Pay for Memorial Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day:

    January 1, 2019 1.4 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2020 1.3 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2021 1.2 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2022 1.1 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2023 1.0 times hourly rate.

    Premium pay required only if retailer employs more than seven (7) workers, including the owner.

    Holiday Premium Pay for New Year's Day, Columbus Day before 12 p.m. and Veterans Day before
    1 p.m.:

    January 1, 2019 1.5 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2020 1.5 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2021 1.2 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2022 1.1 times hourly rate;
    January 1, 2023 1.0 times hourly rate.

    A retail establishment shall not require any employee to perform such work and an employee's refusal to work for any retail establishment on such legal holidays shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, reduction in hours or any other penalty.

    • Background: These changes in An Act Enabling Partnership for Growth “fix” an omission that was meant to be part of the Grand Bargain. Currently, these three holidays remain subject to the 1.5x premium pay requirement.

            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 p.m.*
              Veterans Day before 1 p.m.*
              Thanksgiving Day
              Christmas Day

              * If a permit is granted, premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do apply to Columbus Day and Veterans Day.

    Non-retail establishments (*Manufacturers see note below for special rules)

    Unrestricted holidays:

    • Work may be performed without a permit. Premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do not apply.

             New Year's Day
             Martin Luther King Day
             Presidents Day
             Evacuation Day
             Patriots Day
             Bunker Hill Day

             Juneteenth Independence Day
             Columbus Day after 12 p.m.
             Veterans Day after 1 p.m.

    Restricted holidays:

    • Work may be performed only with a local police permit. Premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements do not apply.

             Columbus Day before 12 p.m.
             Veterans Day before 1 p.m.
             Thanksgiving Day
             Christmas Day

    * Manufacturer's 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.

    Blue laws

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 5

    This section lists the penalty for conducting business on Sunday.

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 6

    This section lists the 55 types of employment that are not banned on Sundays and holidays.

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 7

    This section establishes the local police permitting process for necessary work on Sundays and holidays.

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 13

    This section establishes which holidays are ‘restricted’, ‘partially restricted’, or ‘unrestricted’. This section also requires retail establishments to pay time-and-a-half and apply voluntariness standards to who operate on partially restricted holidays.

    Please see important changes to the Blue Laws under Ch. 358 of the Acts of 2020, entitled An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, made further changes to certain holiday work practices. See link below for the statutory changes.

    https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2020/Chapter358

    Section 74. The second paragraph of section 13 of chapter 136 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the first sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- Any retail establishment that operates on January first, November eleventh or the second Monday in October, under the exemption granted by this section, shall compensate employees working on any of said days at a rate specified under clause (50) of section 6 or such larger sum as may be determined by contract; provided, however, that such work shall be voluntary and refusal to work for any retail establishment on such legal holidays shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, reduction in hours or any other penalty.

    Section 75. Said second paragraph of said section 13 of said chapter 136, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out the first sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- Any retail establishment that operates on January first, November eleventh or the second Monday in October, under the exemption granted by this section, shall not require any employee to perform such work and an employee's refusal to work for any retail establishment on such legal holidays shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, reduction in hours or any other penalty.

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 14

    This section allows some employment (related to as sports, dancing, laundry, some hunting, some farming, etc.) to be performed on holidays, and establishes licensing standards for mayors and selectmen for certain tourist-related businesses who operate on some holidays.

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 15

    This section applies the permitting procedures under § 7 to certain holidays as well. This section also grants the Department of Labor Standards the authority to approve such permits on a statewide, uniform basis.

    M.G.L. c. 136, s. 16

    This section allows retail businesses to open on Sundays (excluding Christmas day) and certain holidays.

    M.G.L. c. 149, s. 45

    This section establishes the penalties for manufacturing work unlawfully performed on holidays.

    M.G.L. c. 149, s. 51A

    This section allows the Attorney General to grant temporary exemptions to manufacturers to allow them to perform work on Sundays.

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