Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as an hourly employee in Massachusetts?

April 9th 2024

Comprehending your employment rights in the context of hourly work extends beyond mere legal compliance; they act as the gateway to professional development and provide the self-assurance needed to navigate your career trajectory.

Each day as you clock in and out, your earnings play a fundamental role in your professional status within the workforce. With employment regulations varying among U.S. states, you may find yourself wondering about your employment entitlements in your particular state and how to ensure their proper adherence with the relevant regulations.

Therefore, this article is specifically written to address your inquiries pertaining to various aspects of employment as a working individual in Massachusetts. Its goal is to equip you with the required knowledge to guarantee the legal protection of your employment rights throughout your career.

This Article Covers

Defining an Hourly Employee in Massachusetts
Wage and Hour Regulations in Massachusetts
Rest Laws in Massachusetts
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Massachusetts
Termination of Employment in Massachusetts

Defining an Hourly Employee in Massachusetts

What is Hourly Employment in Massachusetts?

Generally, an hourly employee’s pay structure is based on the hours worked in each pay period, resulting in a fluctuating gross pay from one paycheck to the next, directly tied to the hours worked during that particular time frame.

Due to the work arrangement of hourly employees, employers often use time tracking methods to ensure accurate compensation for payable hours. In contrast, salaried employees receive a fixed annual amount, irrespective of their hours worked.

Furthermore, hourly employees typically have the opportunity to earn overtime compensation, a benefit that some salaried employees do not have if they are categorized as exempt. Consequently, because of these differing work structures, hourly employees may have access to fewer employment benefits, such as health insurance or retirement plans, compared to salaried workers.

What are the Key Differences Between Salaried and Hourly Employees in Massachusetts

Aspect Hourly Employees Salaried Employees
Compensation Remunerated based on the hours they have worked. Receive a fixed pay on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis. 
Minimum wage Legally entitled to receive the state’s minimum hourly wage. May be ineligible to earn the state’s minimum hourly wage if the employee is classed as non-exempt.
Overtime Pay Qualified to earn overtime pay which may result in a higher annual salary than salaried employees. Typically exempt from overtime pay.
Job security Less job security as hourly workers are likely to be impacted first when there is a change in circumstances More job security.
Rest and Meal Breaks No right to mandatory rest and meal breaks, unless required by state break laws. No right to mandatory rest and meal breaks, unless required by state break laws.
Compensation Stability Inconsistent flow of pay as compensation depends on the actual hours worked. A consistent stream of income. 

To learn more about Massachusetts labor laws, you can access our informative guides on understanding your rights as a salaried employee in Massachusetts and discovering how to run payroll in Massachusetts.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Massachusetts

What are the Maximum Weekly Working Hours in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts is one of the many states in the U.S. that do not have their own laws which dictate the maximum number of hours an employee can work in a single week. Similarly, there are no provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that regulate the required weekly working hours of an employee.

However, the FLSA does mention that non-exempt employees must be compensated at one and a half times their standard hourly wage for working any hours beyond 40 hours in a work week. Moreover, it is worth noting that certain employees may be exempt from earning overtime pay in Massachusetts under federal and state law.

What is the Minimum Wage for Hourly Employees in Massachusetts?

Currently, the minimum wage laws of Massachusetts have fixed the current minimum wage at $15.00 per hour. Therefore, an hourly worker in Massachusetts may typically earn a minimum pay of $600 in a single 40-hour workweek.

Do All Employees Earn the Minimum Wage in Massachusetts?

It is worth acknowledging that certain employees are exempt under state law from earning the mandated minimum wage in Massachusetts. These employees are as follows:

  • Tipped Employees: Employees who receive tips are permitted to earn a minimum hourly pay lower than that of the state’s minimum wage requirements, provided that the hourly pay when added with the tips received meets the state’s minimum wage of $15.00.
  • Full-time students: High school or college students working on a part time basis may earn 85% of the state’s minimum wage for up to 20 hours of work in a week.
  • Employees below 20 years old: The federal law permits employees under the age of 20 to be compensated with an hourly training pay of $4.25 within the first 90 days of employment. Afterwards, these employees must be paid the state’s minimum wage.

Other employee categories that can be exempt from minimum wage include:

  • Agricultural employees.
  • Outside salesmen.
  • Employees working in certain educational, nonprofit, or religious organizations, 
  • Members of a religious order.

How Many Hours Qualify As Overtime and What is the Associated Pay in Massachusetts?

According to the statutory laws of  Massachusetts, hours worked in excess of 40 hours a week are considered as overtime hours in which employees must be compensated one and a half times their regular hourly pay. Therefore, hourly employees in Massachusetts would typically earn an hourly pay of $22.50 for each overtime hour worked.

Do All Employees Earn the Overtime Pay in Massachusetts?

It must be borne in mind that there are also employees with certain occupations who are exempt under state statutory laws from earning the mandated overtime pay in Massachusetts. These type of employees are listed below: 

  • Executive, administrative, professional employees.
  • Outside salespeople.
  • Computer employees
  • janitors or caretakers of residential property who, when furnished with living quarters, are paid not less than $30 per week;
  • golf caddies;
  • newsboys;
  • child actors or performers;
  • outside buyers;
  • fishermen or individuals who employed in the catching or taking of any kind of fish, shellfish, or other aquatic forms of animal and vegetable life;
  • switchboard operators in a public telephone exchange;
  • drivers or helpers on a truck with respect to whom the federal Interstate Commerce Commission has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the federal Motor Carrier Act, the Interstate Commerce Act, or the Railway labor Act;
  • employees of businesses or specified operations of a business which are carried on during a period or accumulated periods of no more than 120 days in any year, and determined by the commissioner to be seasonal in nature;
  • seamen;
  • employees of an employer licensed and regulated pursuant to MA Laws 159A;
  • employees of hotels, motels, motor courts, or like establishments;
  • employees of gasoline stations;
  • employees of restaurants;
  • garagemen, which does not include parking lot attendant;
  • employees of hospitals, sanitoriums, convalescent or nursing homes, infirmaries, rest homes, or charitable homes for the aged;
  • employees of non-profit schools or colleges;
  • employees of summer camps operated by a non-profit charitable corporations
  • laborers engaged in agriculture and farming on a farm; and
  • employees of amusement parks containing a permanent aggregation of amusement devices, games, shows, and other attractions operated during a period or accumulated periods of no more than 150 days in any one year.

Learn more about Massachusetts Overtime Laws.

Rest Laws in Massachusetts

What are the Offered Meal and Rest Breaks for Hourly Employees in Massachusetts?

Intriguingly, some states in the U.S have their own laws regulating rest and meal breaks for employees, while other states have no particular regulations established. In states without their own break laws, employers would need to comply with the provisions of the FLSA in relation to the compensation of rest and meal breaks should they decide to offer such breaks to employees.

In Massachusetts, the statutory laws mandate employers to provide a 30-minute break to employees who are scheduled to work for more than 6 hours in a day, except for employees working in: ironworks, glassworks, paper mills, letterpress establishments, print works, bleaching works, dyeing works, any other factories, workshops, or mechanical establishments the Attorney General of Massachusetts designates as exempt. If employees are free to leave the work premises and do as they please, this break period may remain unpaid. Moreover, most employers in Massachusetts must permit workers to have one day off after working six days consecutively. This day off must include an uninterrupted duration between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Although, employees working as janitors, pharmacists, and those that care for live animals are excluded from this requirement.

As for breaks used for the purposes of breastfeeding, state laws mandate employers to provide employees who are nursing mothers with a break to express milk in a private non-bathroom space, provided that the accommodation does not impose any undue hardship on the employer.

What Laws Govern Time Off and Leaves for Hourly Employees in Massachusetts?

  • Sick days leave: Most employees in Massachusetts are entitled to earn 40 hours worth of sick leave a year. For every 30 hours of work done, an employee must earn 1 hour of sick leave. Furthermore, employers with 11 or more employees must grant paid sick leave while employers with less than 11 employees may not need to compensate for sick leaves accrued. 
  • Paid Family and Medical leave: Under the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave, employees are entitled to use 12 weeks of paid family leave and 20 weeks of paid medical leave to attend to their own health condition. This leave can also be used by employees to bond with a new child, care for a family military member or to attend to family matters when a family member goes on active duty.

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Massachusetts

What are the Laws Regarding Pay Deductions for Hourly Employees in Massachusetts?

Particular care must be taken by employers in properly deducting the wages from the paycheck of an employee to ensure such deductions are legally compliant. In the state of Massachusetts, an employer cannot deduct wages from an employee’s paycheck unless:

  • They have been authorized to do so by state and federal law (for example: income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare).
  • The deductions benefit the employee’s interest (such as medical benefit premiums, union dues and 401(k) deductions).
  • The deductions have been consented to by the employee.

Expenses associated with an employee’s occupation, such as uniforms, supplies, and materials, cannot be withheld from an employee’s paycheck even if the employee consents to the deduction.

In addition, Massachusetts laws require the employer, at the time of payment, to provide an accurate statement outlining all deductions that have been made from the employee’s paycheck.

What are the Provided Hourly Employees Entitlements Under Massachusetts State Law?

  • Minimum wage: Hourly employees in Massachusetts acquire the legal entitlement to earn the state’s hourly minimum wage of $15.00.
  • Overtime: Hourly employees in Massachusetts acquire the legal entitlement to earn the state’s hourly overtime wage of $22.50 for every hour worked beyond 40 hours in a week.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance: Under Massachusetts labor laws, employers must maintain workers’ compensation insurance for employees who have sustained injuries on the job. Furthermore, employers must issue a notice within seven calendar days to the Division of Administration, the employee, and the insurer about any injury that may have arisen out of and in the course of employment which incapacitates a worker from earning full wages for five or more calendar days. 
  • Unemployment insurance benefits: Employers are required under state law to pay taxes to the Department of Unemployment Assistance, which helps to financially provide for an employee, who has lost employment through no fault of their own, by offsetting lost wages.
  • Extended health insurance benefits: The federal COBRA law permits employees to continue their health insurance benefits after the end of their employment. Since this law is only applicable to employers with 20 or more employees, many states have made their own version of the COBRA law. Massachusetts’s mini-COBRA allows employees to extend their health coverage benefits for up to 18 months or, in certain situations, up to 36 months.
  • Other obligatory time-off provisions: The laws of Massachusetts provide employees with other types of leaves that are mandatorily given by law such as: jury duty leave, holiday leave, emergency response leave, small necessities leave, military leave, domestic abuse and sexual assault leave, crime witness leave, voting leave.

What are the Provided Hourly Employee Protections Under Massachusetts State Law?

  • Right to work laws: The labor laws of Massachusetts forbids employers to coerce or compel an employee into a written or oral agreement to become or not to become a member of a labor union as a condition of employment or continuing employment.
  • Employment discrimination protection laws: Employers are prohibited under federal law to discriminate an employee based on their: Race, Color, Age, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, National origin, Pregnancy, Genetic information, including family medical history, Physical or mental disability, Child or spousal support withholding, Military or veteran status, Citizenship and/or immigration status. Moreover, the laws of Massachusetts prevent employers from discriminating against employees based on their marital status, health insurance status, or criminal record.
  • Lie detector protection law: The labor laws of Massachusetts prohibit employers from requesting an individual or an employee to take a lie detector test as well as taking adverse employment actions for their refusal to participate in the taking of this test.
  • Child labor protection laws: Massachusetts labor laws protect employed minors by regulating their permitted scheduled work hours in relation to when school is in session, restricting their work duties and requiring adult supervision for working hours after 8 p.m.
  • Genetic testing protection laws: In Massachusetts, no facility, physician, or health care provider is allowed to: (1) test any person for their genetic information unless prior written consent has first been obtained; (2) disclose the genetic test results to any other person apart from the subject unless if the informed written consent has been obtained; (3) Identify the person being tested to any other person without first obtaining the prior written consent of the subject or proper judicial order.

Termination of Employment in Massachusetts

What are the Termination Laws for Hourly Employees in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts, along with several other U.S. states, follows the at-will doctrine in employment relationships. Under these laws, employers and employees are permitted to end the employment relationship at any time and without any cause. While these laws are in effect, certain exceptions may restrict the at-will principle,  limiting an employer’s ability to freely terminate an employee. These exceptions include:

  • The existence of an employment contract: An employment contract, whether established in writing or orally, may specify employees as not ‘at-will’ workers and outline the circumstances that justifies the termination of employment. This removes the employer’s privilege to freely terminate an employee at any time and for any reason. In such cases, employers must strictly abide by the terms of the contract to avoid facing any legal consequences.
  • Retaliation: According to federal law, employers cannot engage in retaliatory acts such as termination, demotion, transfer, or wage reduction against employees who have participated in discrimination hearings or asserted their legal rights, such as filing a claim for discrimination or testifying in court. Similarly, in Massachusetts, employees are protected from being retaliated against for actions that involve filing a claim for equal pay, using their leave granted by the Family Medical Leave Act, reporting workplace safety,  serving jury duty, or meeting military service obligations. Moreover, employees cannot be terminated without cause for one year after using their military leave and are entitled by state law to be reinstated to their previously held employment position.
  • Public policy: Public policy exceptions prevent employers from terminating  employees if doing so would violate the state’s established public policy rules. For instance, in Massachusetts, employees are protected from being dismissed if they file a workers’ compensation claim or sexual harassment claim. This protection also applies if an employee refuses to engage in an illegal activity at the employer’s request. 
  • Workplace discrimination: Under federal law, employees cannot be terminated based on their protected characteristics which comprise of the following: age, sex, pregnancy, genetic information, disability, color, ethnicity, race, national origin or citizenship status. The state of Massachusetts abides by these laws and further protects employees from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, military status or arrest record.

Furthermore, in Massachusetts, employees who have voluntarily resigned must be paid their final paychecks either by the next regularly scheduled payday or until the next Saturday, if there is no regular payday. While employees who have been terminated or laid off must be paid their final paycheck on the day they leave the workplace.

Should Severance Pay Be Provided to Hourly Employees in Massachusetts?

Severance pay refers to the financial compensation given by an employer to an employee when their employment ends. It is usually based on the employee’s tenure with the company and is designed to offer financial support to employees who are without a job while they are in search of a new one.

In Massachusetts, there are no state laws that regulate the payment of severance. Hence, an employer in the state is only obligated to make such payments to an employee if the terms outlined in the employment contract or collective bargaining agreement requires them to do so.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it is imperative to have an extensive understanding of your employment rights to safeguard your legal entitlements and well-being during the tenure of your employment.

Moreover, given the ever-developing character of employment laws, staying informed about recent legal advancements specific to your state’s employment regulations is absolutely necessary for making informed decisions regarding your career throughout your professional journey.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.