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Quick and Easy Guide to Labor & Employment Law: Massachusetts

This state-specific guide covers labor and employment case law, statutes, rules, and regulations that HR professionals and clients often encounter or have questions about in Massachusetts.

At-Will Employment

Massachusetts is an at-will employment state, which means that, in general, an employer may terminate an employee for any reason or no reason. However, there are a number of exceptions to this general rule. An employer may not terminate an employee for any prohibited reason, such as those rooted in discrimination or retaliation.

Employment Discrimination Laws

Massachusetts employment discrimination laws apply to employers with six or more employees, and any employer of a domestic worker (i.e., a household worker such as a nanny or caregiver) regardless of the employer's size. M.G.L. c. 151B § 1. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on, among other things, race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy or a condition related to said pregnancy, ancestry, or status as a veteran. M.G.L. c. 151B § 4.

Right-to-Work Laws

Massachusetts does not allow a person to be coerced or compelled into a written or oral agreement not to join or to become member of a labor organization as a condition of employment. Massachusetts General Laws 20.

Immigration Verification

All U.S. employers must properly complete Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States, including citizens and noncitizens. Massachusetts places no additional employment verification procedures on employers beyond Federal I-9 compliance. There is no requirement to use E-Verify under Massachusetts state laws.

Employment of Aliens

It shall be unlawful for any employer to unknowingly employ any alien in the commonwealth who is a student or visitor, or who has not been admitted to the United States for permanent residence, except those who are admitted under a work permit, or unless the employment of such alien is authorized by the U.S. Attorney General. An employer shall not be deemed to have violated this section if it has made a bona fide inquiry into whether a person hereafter employed or referred to by them as a citizen or an alien, and if an alien, whether they are lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, admitted under a work permit, or authorized by the U.S. Attorney General. M.G.L. c. 149 §19C.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts has not enacted any laws restricting drug testing by employers. However, there is case law on the issue.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court issued a ruling on random drug testing in private employment. In Webster v. Motorola, the court held that an employer's random drug-testing policy must be weighed on a case-by-case basis. A court will weigh the employee's job responsibilities and the employer's interests. In Motorola, the court found that a random drug-test policy was valid when applied to an account executive driving up to 25,000 miles per year for the employer. However, the random drug testing policy was not valid as applied to a technical editor whose job did not involve national security or pose an immediate risk to health and safety. The court reasoned that the editor's right to privacy outweighed the employer's interest in drug testing. Webster v. Motorola, Inc., 418 Mass. 425 (Mass. 1994).

Jury Duty Leave and Compensation

No person shall be discharged from or deprived of their employment because of their attendance or service as a grand or traverse juror in any court. An employer that violates this rule shall be considered as in contempt of the court upon which such person is or has been in attendance. M.G.L. c. 268 § 14A. Each regularly employed trial or grand juror shall be paid regular wages by their employer for the first three days, or part thereof, of juror service. Regular employment includes part-time, temporary, and casual employment as long as the employment hours of a juror reasonably may be determined by a schedule or by custom and practice established during the three-month period preceding the term of service of such juror. M.G.L. c. 234A § 48. After three days, the state will pay jurors $50 per day. M.G.L. c. 234A § 51.

Voting Leave

Under Massachusetts law, only employers of manufacturing, mechanical, or mercantile establishments are required to grant leave to employees to vote. Those employers must grant leave to their employees only upon request by the employee, and must grant the leave only for the period of two hours after the opening of the polls in the voting precinct, ward, or town in which the employees are entitled to vote. M.G.L. c. 149 § 178. An employer violating this provision may be subject to a fine of up to $500.M.G.L c. 149 § 180.

Parental Leave

On January 1, 2021, most Massachusetts employees became eligible for paid leave under the Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law. Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks after the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. An employee's weekly benefit amount is a percentage of the employee's earnings and is capped at a maximum of $850 per week. M.G.L. c 175M.

If both parents work for the same employer, both parents are entitled to up to 12 weeks of PFML. This time is granted for the parent to bond with the child and may be taken within one year of the child's birth or placement.

Sick Leave

Earned sick time shall be provided by an employer for an employee to (1) care for the employee's child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse who is suffering from a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition; (2) care for the employee's own physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition; (3) attend the employee's routine medical appointment or a routine medical appointment for the employee's child, spouse, parent, or parent of spouse; or (4) address the psychological, physical, or legal effects of domestic violence. An employer must provide a minimum of one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked by an employee. This becomes effective upon hiring an employee. However, employees are not entitled to use accrued earned sick time until the 90th calendar day after commencement of their employment. M.G.L. c. 149 § 148C.

An employer with 11 or more employees must provide paid leave. Smaller employers must provide unpaid leave. If the employee's primary place of work is Massachusetts, the employee is eligible for sick leave regardless of where the employer is located.

Smoking Laws

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a smoke-free environment for all employees working in an enclosed workplace. Smoking shall be prohibited in workplaces, workspaces, common work areas, classrooms, conference and meeting rooms, offices, elevators, employee lounges, etc. Every area in which smoking is prohibited by law shall have "No Smoking" signs conspicuously posted so the signs are clearly visible to all employees, customers, or visitors while in the workplace. M.G.L. c. 270 § 22.

Break Time to Express Milk

It is unlawful discrimination for an employer to deny a reasonable accommodation for an employee's pregnancy or any condition related to the employee's pregnancy including, but not limited to, lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child if the employee requests such an accommodation; however, an employer may deny such an accommodation if the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer's program, enterprise, or business. "Reasonable accommodation" may include, but shall not be limited to: (i) more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks; (ii) time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or recover from childbirth with or without pay; … or (ix) a modified work schedule. M.G.L. c. 151B § 4.

Minimum Wage, Tipped Employees, and Overtime Pay

The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $14.25 effective January 1, 2022. This rate will raise to $15.00 on January 1, 2023. M.G.L, c. 151. The minimum wage for tipped employees is $6.15 per hour as of January 1, 2022. This rate will increase in steps to reach $6.75 per hour in January 2023. M.G.L. c. 151 § 7 Employers must compensate employees at a rate of not less than one and one half times the regular rate at which the employer pays the employee for any work in excess of 40 hours in one week. Some employees are exempt from overtime pay. M.G.L. c.151 § 1A.

Payment Schedule and Final Payments

Every employer in Massachusetts must pay its nonexempt employees weekly or biweekly. Exempt employees may be paid biweekly or semi-monthly. Any employee leaving their employment shall be paid in full on the following regular payday. Any employee discharged from employment shall be paid in full on the date of discharge, or in Boston as soon as the laws requiring payrolls, bills, and accounts to be certified shall have been complied with. M.G.L. c. 149 § 148.

Vacation Wages

"Wages" include vacation due under an oral or written agreement. Employers may not contract with employees to forfeit earned wages, including paid vacation. Employees who leave or are fired, with or without cause, are entitled to accrued vacation pay. M.G.L. c.149 § 148; See also Electronic Data Systems Corp. v. Attorney General, 907 N.E. 2d 635, 637 (Mass. 2009).

Unemployment Insurance

Massachusetts requires employers to pay taxes to the Department of Unemployment Assistance, which provides funds to temporarily offset wages lost by an employee for becoming unemployed through no fault of their own. M.G.L. c. 151A.

Workers' Compensation

Workers injured on the job are generally entitled to workers' compensation benefits from the employer. Employers are required to maintain workers' compensation insurance. M.G.L. c.152 §25A. Employers must furnish notice within seven calendar days to the Division of Administration, the employee, and the insurer about any injury alleged to have arisen out of and in the course of employment that incapacitates an employee from earning full wages for a period of five or more calendar days. M.G.L. c.152 § 6.

Child Labor

A person shall not employ a child or permit a child to work in, about, or in connection with any establishment or occupation before 6:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m.; however, a child who is 16 years of age or older may be employed until, but not after, 11:30 p.m. on any night other than a night preceding a regularly scheduled school day.

Also, a child who is 16 years or older may be employed in a restaurant or racetrack until, but not after, 12:00 a.m. (midnight) in the evening on any given night other than a night preceding a regularly scheduled school night. If the establishment stops serving clients or customers at 10:00 p.m., the establishment may not employ the child past 10:15 p.m.

A person shall not employ a child or permit a child to work in, about, or in connection with any establishment or occupation after 8:00 p.m. unless the child is under the direct and immediate supervision of an adult acting in a supervisory capacity who is situated in the workplace and is reasonably accessible to the child. M.G.L. c. 149 § 66.

Gun Laws

Employers in Massachusetts may restrict employees from possessing firearms on workplace premises even in employee vehicles regardless of whether the employee has a license for concealed carry. M.G.L c. 140 §§ 121-131Q.

Prohibition of Work on Holidays for Mills or Factories

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 $1,500. M.G.L. c. 149 § 45.

Family and Medical Leave

An employee is entitled to a total of 24 hours of leave during any 12-month period, in addition to leave available under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, to:

  1. Participate in school activities directly related to the educational advancement of their child, such as parent-teacher conferences;
  2. Accompany the child of the employee to routine medical or dental appointments; and
  3. Accompany an elderly relative — an individual of at least 60 years of age — to routine medical or dental appoints or other professional services related to the elder's care.

If the necessity for leave is foreseeable, the employee shall provide the employer with not less than seven days' notice. If the necessity for leave is not foreseeable, the employee shall provide such notice as is practical. M.G.L. c. 149 § 52D.

Meal Breaks

No person shall be required to work for more than six hours during a calendar day without an interval of at least 30 minutes for a meal. Any employer who violates this section shall be punished by a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $600. M.G.L c. 149 § 100.

Additional Laws and Regulations

Polygraph Testing

It is unlawful for any employer or their agent, with respect to any employee, or any person applying for employment, including any person applying for employment as a police officer, to subject such person to, or request such person to take, a lie detector test in or beyond the commonwealth, or to discharge, not hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against such person for the rights in this section. This section does not apply to lie detector tests administered by law enforcement agencies as permitted in criminal investigations. M.G.L. c. 149 § 19B.

Genetic Information

A genetic test is classified as a test of human DNA, RNA, mitochondrial DNA, chromosomes, or proteins for the purpose of identifying genes, inherited or acquired genetic abnormalities, or the presence or absence of inherited or acquired characteristics in genetic material. Genetic records shall not be public records. An organization with genetic records cannot divulge such records without having informed written consent, except upon proper judicial order or to a person whose official duties (in the opinion of the commissioner) make them entitled to receipt of the information. No facility, physician, or health care provider shall: (1) test any person for genetic information without first obtaining prior written consent; (2) disclose the results of a genetic test to any person other than the subject thereof without first obtaining the informed written consent, except where the results will be used only as confidential information for use in epidemiological or clinical research; or (3) identify the person being tested to any other person without first obtaining informed written consent or upon proper judicial order. M.G.L. c. 111 § 70G.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts permits a qualifying patient with a debilitating medical condition to obtain a written or electronic certification from a healthcare professional with whom the patient has a bona fide health care professional-patient relationship to purchase medical use marijuana from a medical marijuana treatment center. A qualifying patient or personal caregiver shall not be subject to arrest or prosecution, or civil penalty, for medical use of marijuana. M.G.L c. 94I §2.

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Guide last updated October 2022.

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