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Thursday, November 25, 2021

Laws Governing Working on Thanksgiving and Holidays in Massachusetts

First and foremost, Happy Thanksgiving! 

An interesting employment law tidbit is that both Massachusetts and Rhode Island stand outside the norm for the country by requiring private companies to give workers paid time off for national holidays.  You may have recently heard that certain retailers have announced that its stores will be closed on Thanksgiving for the future.  While part of that decision is certainly as a good will gesture to its employees, it is also a savvy business decision as retail employers cannot force its employees to work on legal holidays and, if they do, retail employers often have to provide “premium pay” which would cost the company an increased expense if they chose to be open. 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes eleven holidays as a legal holiday (Suffolk County includes a few extra such as Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day).  Each holiday has its own rules and restrictions set on what industries are allowed to be open, what times they may be open, and how much they need to pay their employees.  Many businesses need to obtain permits for some of these holidays and employees who work in retail are entitled to a higher rate of pay if they work on a holiday.

The rules governing holiday regulations for employers are referred to as the “Blue Laws” of Massachusetts.  The “Blue Laws” began in the 1600s and were initially a strict set of legal guidelines for moral behavior on Sundays in an effort to increase Church attendance by restricting certain activities.  Nowadays, the “Blue Laws” are a confusing set of laws which control what businesses can legally operate on Sundays and on some legal holidays.  The “Blue Laws” also control what employees must be paid if they work on Sundays and some legal holidays.

For example, if a retailer has a total of seven or more employees on its payroll, then any “non-exempt” worker who works on Sundays must be paid a “premium pay” rate.  The rate of “premium pay” decreased to 1.3x regular hourly rate as of January 1, 2020 and will continue to decrease every year until it is entirely eliminated by January 1, 2023. 

Employees who are entitled to holiday pay must be paid 1.5 times their regular rate for work performed on New Year’s Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day.  For Memorial Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, an employer must pay its entitled employees 1.2 times their regular rate during 2021 and 1.1 times their regular rate during 2022.  The holiday pay requirement for those holidays will be phased out entirely on January 1, 2023.

Retail employers with seven or more employees must give all of their employees the right to refuse to work on Sundays and cannot take any negative action against an employee for refusing to work.

Massachusetts law also prohibits retail employers with more than seven employees from requiring employees to work on Independence Day, Veterans Day (before 1 pm), Christmas Day (or the following day if falls on Sunday), Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day (before 12 pm), and Thanksgiving Day.  Massachusetts law also prohibits all retailers from requiring employees to work on New Year’s Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day.  Massachusetts law prohibits employers from disciplining employees because they refuse to work these holidays.

If you have questions regarding employment law, please contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy for a free consultation.

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