Compliance Watch:
Penalties for Breaking Massachusetts Labor Laws

April 3rd 2024

Massachusetts has strong labor protections in place, covering issues like fair wages, overtime pay, workplace safety, and protection against discrimination. When employers violate these laws, they can find themselves on the business end of the various penalties for breaking Massachusetts labor laws.

This article aims to shed light on these penalties along with the key labor laws in the state. By exploring these consequences, employers can better recognize potential red flags and take proactive measures to create a safe and healthy workplace.

This Article Covers

Most Common Labor Law Violations in Massachusetts
Penalties for Breaking Massachusetts Labor Laws
How You Can Avoid Violating Massachusetts Labor Laws

Most Common Labor Law Violations in Massachusetts

Labor laws are like the rules of the game in the workplace. They exist to ensure that employees are treated fairly, and their rights are protected. Unfortunately, some employers in Massachusetts choose to ignore these laws, putting their workers at a disadvantage.

  • Misclassification of employees as contractors: Employers may wrongly classify workers as contractors to avoid providing benefits, overtime pay, and other protections granted to employees. This misclassification denies workers their rights and results in tax evasion, depriving the government of payroll taxes. Between 2017 and 2019, payroll audits by the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) revealed that approximately 16.8% to 17.9% of construction employers in Massachusetts misclassify workers as independent contractors.
  • Not paying proper wages: Another common violation employers make is failing to pay employees proper wages. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Massachusetts state departments of labor and attorneys general were able to recover a total of $19,895,864 in unpaid wages. This may have been caused by various factors, including withholding overtime pay, not paying the minimum wage or unauthorized payroll deductions.
  • Workplace Discrimination: Discrimination can manifest in various forms, including hiring biases, unequal pay, harassment, and wrongful termination based on protected attributes, including race, religion, national origin, and sex. In fiscal year 2019, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination received 3,364 discrimination complaints, a 15% increase from the previous year. They also conducted 624 mediations and conciliations to resolve cases before public hearings.

Penalties for Breaking Massachusetts Labor Laws

Labor laws in Massachusetts are designed to protect the rights and well-being of employees. Here’s a look at the key labor laws in the state and the penalties for breaking them:

Massachusetts Minimum Wage Laws

In an attempt to help workers cope with the cost of living and inflation, Governor Charlie Baker approved a law in 2018 that allowed for yearly increases in the minimum wage. The minimum wage in Massachusetts was raised to $15 per hour. This latest increase is the final one as per the agreement.

But not all workers in the state are entitled to the $15 minimum wage. As per both state and federal laws, some of the exceptions to the minimum wage law are:

  • Agricultural workers ($8.00 is the minimum hourly wage for most agricultural workers)
  • Employees who earn at least $684 per week or $27.63 per hour
  • Outside sales employees with no minimum salary requirement
  • Members of a religious order
  • Employees of certain nonprofits
  • Minors (minimum training wage for minors is $4.25 for the first 90 days of employment)

The minimum wage for tipped employees is slightly different. If you have employees who receive more than $20 a month in tips, you can pay them a minimum wage of $6.75 per hour. However, it’s important to inform employees of this hourly rate and ensure they receive at least the regular minimum wage when their tips and wages are combined.

Penalty for Violation

If an employer violates minimum wage regulations in Massachusetts, they must pay three times the damages. This means that a $1,000 mistake could turn into a $3,000 problem. The law also says the employer has to cover the employee’s attorney fees and costs if the employee wins a wage claim.

Massachusetts Overtime Laws

Overtime laws in Massachusetts align with those set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employees who work more than 40 hours a week are entitled to overtime pay, which is 1.5 times their regular rate.

However, some job categories, like executives and professionals, may be exempt from overtime pay based on their job description and salary. Other exceptions under state overtime laws are:

  • Janitors
  • Caretakers who live on residential property and earn at least $30 per week
  • Golf caddies
  • Newsboys
  • Child actors or performers
  • Outside salesmen
  • Learners, apprentices, or handicapped people under a special license
  • Fishermen and seamen
  • Gasoline station employees

Learn more about Massachusetts Overtime Laws in our comprehensive guide.

Penalty for Violation

Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the overtime pay requirements established by FLSA are subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each such violation.

Fair Employment Laws

Several state and federal laws in Massachusetts aim to ensure equal employment opportunities for individuals. These laws protect individuals from unfair treatment based on various factors, including race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, military service, age, ancestry, or disability.

It is illegal for employers to engage in discriminatory practices during any stage of the employment process. This includes discriminatory actions in job advertisements, application forms, hiring decisions, promotions, compensation, working conditions, and termination.

Penalty for Violation

According to Massachusetts law (MGL c. 151B), individuals who successfully prove employment discrimination in a public hearing before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) are eligible to receive compensation for economic losses (including back pay and future pay), emotional distress, out-of-pocket expenses, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Additionally, under MGL c. 151B, §9, the MCAD has the authority to impose a civil penalty of up to $50,000 on employers who have been found guilty of past discriminatory practices.

Massachusetts False Claims Act

In 2000, Massachusetts enacted its own False Claims Act, similar to the federal law. This allowed whistleblowers to file lawsuits if they had information about violations of state law.

The Massachusetts False Claims Act also holds individuals responsible if they knowingly submit fraudulent or false claims to the state to receive payment, misuse state property, or try to avoid paying what they owe to the state. But if the Massachusetts Attorney General takes up the case for prosecution, whistleblowers can receive a reward of 15 to 25 percent of the recovery.

Penalty for Violation

Whistleblowers are protected from employment retaliation due to their whistleblowing activities. The protection offered by the Massachusetts whistleblower law includes:

  • Reinstatement to the same seniority level the whistleblower would have had if not for the retaliation.
  • Twice the amount of back pay owed to the whistleblower.
  • Interest on the back pay.
  • Compensation for any additional damages suffered due to the retaliation.

In successful cases of whistleblower retaliation, the defendant is also responsible for covering litigation expenses and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML)

The Massachusetts PFML program provides paid time off for individuals in Massachusetts who need to take leave for family or medical reasons. The program is funded through contributions from both employers and employees and is separate from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and any existing employer benefits.

Under PFML, medical leave allows for up to 20 weeks of paid leave per year for an employee’s own serious health condition, while family leaves up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year for childbirth, adoption, or foster care placement, as well as caring for a family member with a serious health condition. Additional paid leaves are available for situations involving family members in the armed services.

The total paid leave an employee can take per year is up to 26 weeks, and a state formula with a weekly maximum determines the specific amount of pay.

Penalty for Violation

The statute of limitations for job restoration, benefits, and retaliation violations is three years. If the person who brings the lawsuit wins, they can receive three times the amount of lost wages and benefits, along with interest, costs, and attorney fees. They may also be able to get an order from the court to make things right, like being reinstated to their job.

Recordkeeping Laws

In Massachusetts, there are specific recordkeeping laws that employers must follow. For payroll records, employers must maintain these records for three years and include important information such as the worker’s name, address, job/occupation, the amount paid each pay period, and hours worked daily and weekly. Workers have the right to access their own payroll records at reasonable times and places.

Personnel records that may affect a worker’s employment, promotion, transfer, compensation, or disciplinary action must also be kept by employers. Employees should have the right to review or receive a copy of their personnel files within five business days of a written request.

Penalty for Violation

If someone violates the Massachusetts Personnel Record Law, they can face a criminal penalty ranging from $500 to $2,500. The Massachusetts Attorney General is responsible for enforcing this law. While employees have the right to take legal action to remove false information from their personal records, the law does not provide any monetary compensation for such violations.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

The Massachusetts State Plan adopts OSHA’s safety and health standards with the same goal of ensuring safe and healthful working conditions. This plan covers all state and local government workers in the state, but it does not include federal government workers.

Some of the employer’s responsibilities under OSHA are as follows:

  • Provide a workplace without serious hazards and comply with OSHA standards.
  • Address safety and health problems by making changes in working conditions.
  • Prominently display the official OSHA poster describing rights and responsibilities.
  • Inform workers about hazards through training, labels, alarms, and other methods.
  • Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Perform required workplace tests and sampling.
  • Provide necessary medical exams.
  • Post-OSHA citations and injury data for workers to see.
  • Notify OSHA promptly of workplace incidents.
  • Not retaliate against workers for exercising their rights, including reporting work-related incidents.
Penalty for Violation

States, like Massachusetts, with their own Occupational Safety and Health Plans, must ensure that their maximum penalty levels are equal to or greater in effectiveness compared to those set by Federal OSHA. However, State Plans don’t need to impose monetary penalties on employers from state and local government entities.

The latest maximum penalties posted by OSHA are as follows:

Type of Violation Penalty


Posting Requirements

$15,625 per violation
Failure to Abate $15,625 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated $156,259 per violation

Child Labor Laws

Massachusetts child labor laws aim to safeguard young individuals from exploitation and excessive work hours while providing them with valuable work experience. Employers in the state must adhere to both state and federal regulations and obtain a Youth Employment Permit to hire individuals under the age of 18.

For 14 and 15-year-olds, work is allowed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the school term and until 9 p.m. during the summer period. During the school term, they can work up to 18 hours per week, with a maximum of 3 hours per day on school days. On non-school days, they can work up to 8 hours per day and six days per week, reaching a total of 40 hours during non-school periods.

For those aged 16 and 17, work is permitted between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on regular school days, extending until 11:30 p.m. on non-school nights. However, at restaurants or racetracks, work can continue until midnight. These individuals are allowed to work a maximum of 48 hours per week, with a limit of 9 hours per day and six days per week.

All minors are also prohibited from the following hazardous occupations:

  • Driving vehicles, forklifts, or work-assist vehicles (excluding golf carts in specific cases)
  • Operating, cleaning, or repairing power-driven meat slicers, grinders, or choppers
  • Working at heights of 30 feet or more above ground or water
  • Handling, serving, or selling alcoholic beverages
  • Manufacturing brick, tile, or similar products
  • Manufacturing or storing explosives
  • Working in excavation, wrecking, demolition, or shipbreaking
  • Working in railway operations and so on
Penalty for Violation

Employing, inducing, or allowing minors to work in violation of child labor laws can result in criminal penalties. Convictions for such violations may lead to a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one month per offense.

Moreover, civil citations can be issued for child labor law violations, with fines of up to $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and up to $2,500 for a third offense and subsequent offenses, including up to three years of past violations.

Learn more about Massachusetts Child Labor Laws.

How You Can Avoid Violating Massachusetts Labor Laws

To avoid violating Massachusetts labor laws, it is crucial to understand and comply with the regulations set forth by the state. Here are some steps you can take that can help with compliance:

Tip #1 Familiarize Yourself with the Applicable Laws

The first step in avoiding violations is to be knowledgeable about the relevant labor laws in Massachusetts. Important laws to understand include the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Law, Occupational Safety and Health Act, and Fair Employment Laws. Make sure to stay updated on any changes or updates to these laws.

Tip #2 Establish Clear Company Policies

Develop clear and comprehensive company policies that comply with Massachusetts labor laws. These policies should address key areas such as wages, working hours, leave entitlements, anti-discrimination, and harassment, accommodations for disabilities, and disciplinary procedures. Ensure all employees are aware of these policies and provide them with a written copy.

Tip #3 Understand Employee Classification

Review the criteria for employee classification carefully and ensure employees are correctly classified to receive the appropriate benefits and protections. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors or exempt from overtime when they shouldn’t be can be considered a case of wage theft and lead to serious violations.

Tip #4 Keep Accurate Records

Maintain accurate and up-to-date records for each employee. This includes employee contracts, records of hours worked, wages paid, overtime hours, and any deductions made. By keeping accurate records, employers can demonstrate their commitment to compliance, ensure employees are properly paid, and avoid potential legal issues.

To make the process of keeping records easier, you can leverage the power of time and attendance tracking software. These tools reduce the chances of errors and ensure precise recording of work hours.

Tip #5 Train Managers and Supervisors

Provide training to managers and supervisors on labor laws and their responsibilities in enforcing these regulations. Educate them on key areas such as overtime calculation, employee rights, anti-discrimination measures, and proper recordkeeping practices. This training will help prevent inadvertent violations and promote consistent compliance throughout the organization.

Tip #6 Seek Legal Advice If Needed

If you are unsure about specific labor laws or their implications for your business, seek guidance from an experienced employment attorney. They can help you navigate complex regulations, review your policies, and provide recommendations to ensure compliance. Legal advice can be particularly valuable when facing unique circumstances or dealing with complex labor issues.

Learn more about Massachusetts Labor Laws through our detailed guide.

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.