Now that the holiday season is in full swing, many Massachusetts employers will find themselves asking whether or not they can, or should, remain open on major holidays and what their employees’ rights are concerning pay and time off. Massachusetts remains one of the few states with staunch “Blue Laws” that place prohibitions on businesses during certain days of the week, including certain holidays. “Blue Laws” generally refer to Puritanical regulations that attempted to regulate “moral behavior” and forbade certain activities on Sundays.
Massachusetts Blue Laws affect a large number of its businesses, especially concerning holiday operations. With that said, if a Massachusetts retailer or non-retail business satisfies at least one of fifty-five eligible exemptions, it may operate on holidays. For example, oft-frequented retailers such as restaurants, libraries, bakeries, hotels, and pharmacies are all exempted and may remain open. Exemptions also exist for more eclectic outlets such as art galleries, public bathhouses, retailers that sell ice, and “coin-operated car-washing businesses.” Other businesses are not so lucky.
If a retail or non-retail business does not satisfy any exemption, different holiday rules apply. For retailers, holidays are broken into three groups, each with a different set of rules. For example, retailers may open without any additional strife during the first holiday group: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (third Monday in January), Presidents Day (third Monday in February), Evacuation Day (March 17), Patriots’ Day/Marathon Monday (third Monday in April), and Bunker Hill Day (June 17). Employees need not pay their employees “time and a half” to work on these holidays. Also of note, employers can require employees to work on these holidays; the employer may terminate the employee in the event of a refusal.
More stringent requirements apply to the second holiday group: New Year’s Day (January 1), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (first Monday in September), Columbus Day (second Monday in October) (after 12:00 p.m.) and Veterans Day (November 11) (after 1:00 p.m.). On these days, most retailers may open as usual so long as employees are paid time and a half and the so-called voluntariness requirement is met. The voluntariness requirement allows employees to refrain from working during these holidays and prohibits employers from discriminating, dismissing, discharging, or levying any other penalty against them for their choice to refrain.
The third holiday group imposes the most stringent requirements on employers. Most retailers may not open on Christmas Day (December 25), Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November), Columbus Day (prior to 12:00 p.m.) or Veterans Day (prior to 1:00 p.m.) unless the Department of Labor Standards issues a uniform, statewide approval of permits for each holiday and the retailer obtains a local police permit. If a permit is obtained, both the time and a half and the voluntariness requirements apply.
The rules are a bit different for non-retail establishments that do not fall into any of the fifty-five exemptions. The following are unrestricted holidays where work may be performed without any additional permits and where the time and a half and voluntariness requirements do not apply: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Evacuation Day, Patriots’ Day, Bunker Hill Day, Columbus Day (after 12:00 p.m.) and Veterans Day (after 1:00 p.m.). However, non-retail businesses may only open on the following holidays if a local police permit is secured: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day (before 12:00 p.m.), Veterans Day (before 1:00 p.m.), Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Curiously, the time and a half and voluntariness requirements do not apply on these restricted holidays.
Curious if your business is affected by the Massachusetts Blue Laws or whether your business’s holiday policies are in compliance? Feel free to contact the author or another experienced employment lawyer from Conn Kavanaugh for additional information.