Operational Gaze:
How to Run Payroll in Massachusetts?

April 9th 2024

In Massachusetts, payroll administration involves the comprehensive process of compensating employees for their work. This refers to tasks such as calculating earnings, handling deductions, submitting required reports, navigating payroll taxes, and ultimately issuing payments.

Massachusetts has specific considerations related to minimum wage, tax regulations, and labor laws that make payroll management unique. To effectively handle payroll in this state, a thorough understanding of the local regulatory framework is essential.

To assist you in each step of the pay cycle in Massachusetts, we’ve created a series of clear and simple guidelines. This article aims to provide you with crucial insights into the intricacies of payroll operations in the state. Our goal is to ensure that you have a clear grasp of your situation and can identify areas where you might require additional support.

This Article Covers

Laws That Affect Payroll Procedures in Massachusetts
Worker Classifications in Massachusetts
Payroll Forms and Relevant Bodies in Massachusetts
Applicable Taxes in Massachusetts
Key Pay Elements That Impact Payroll in Massachusetts
Step-by-Step Guide to Payroll in Massachusetts

Laws That Affect Payroll Procedures in Massachusetts

There are certain legal regulations that govern how employees are compensated. It’s crucial that businesses understand and adhere to these rules. 

Massachusetts Laws

Massachusetts has specific employment laws and rules that impact various aspects of the workforce, such as labor regulations, minimum wage standards, and family leave provisions. Here’s an overview of some of the principal laws and regulations in Massachusetts:

  • Massachusetts Labor Code: The Massachusetts Labor Code addresses wage payments, sick leave, and workers’ compensation. It’s important to note that the laws in Massachusetts also implement federal laws like the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for certain regulations.
  • Minimum Wage: Massachusetts places a gradual increase in the minimum wage, currently standing at $15 per hour.
  • Overtime Pay: Massachusetts overtime laws adhere to federal criteria for overtime compensation. Non-exempt employees must receive overtime pay at 1.5 times their regular wage for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML): Massachusetts has established a paid family and medical leave program, granting eligible employees paid leave for specific family and medical circumstances. Employers are obligated to make contributions to finance this program.
  • Equal Pay Act: The state enforces an Equal Pay Act, prohibiting gender-based wage discrimination. Employers are mandated to ensure that employees of all genders receive equal pay for similar work.
  • Meal and Rest Breaks: Employers in Massachusetts must provide meal breaks of at least 30 minutes to employees who work over six hours. Additionally, employees are entitled to a 10-minute break for every four hours worked.
  • Parental Leave: The Parental Leave Act in Massachusetts offers eligible employees job-protected, unpaid leave for reasons like childbirth or adoption.
  • Sick Leave: Massachusetts has laws governing sick leave, requiring employers to grant paid or unpaid sick leave to qualified employees. The laws also define the accrual and utilization of sick leave.
  • Non-Compete Agreements: The state has specific regulations regarding non-compete agreements, which restrict employees from working for competing employers. To be legally binding, these agreements must meet certain legal criteria.
  • Wage Theft Prevention: Massachusetts maintains regulations to prevent wage theft, encompassing wage disbursement rules, including provisions on deductions and the timing of wage payments.

Federal Laws

There are three significant federal laws that will affect how you handle your payroll procedures:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): FLSA sets rules for minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, exemptions, and child labor regulations. It applies to various sectors, including private businesses and government entities at federal, state, and local levels.
  • The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA): FICA requires both employers and employees to contribute to Social Security and Medicare. Employers must deduct 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare from each employee’s pay. Employers also match these deductions, resulting in a total FICA payroll tax rate of 15.3% for each employee.
  • The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA): FUTA mandates that employers make contributions to unemployment taxes, which provide benefits to eligible employees who lose their jobs. While it’s not a direct payroll deduction for employees, employers must account for FUTA contributions in every payroll cycle. In most cases, a 6% tax on the first $7,000 paid to an employee annually is expected, although there might be industry-specific exceptions.

HR Laws

  • New Hire Reporting: It is a legal obligation for employers in Massachusetts to inform the relevant department within 14 days of hiring, recalling, or rehiring a new employee. The notification should include specific information about each newly hired, recalled, or rehired individual, such as their complete name, address, social security number, and employment start date.
  • Posting Requirements: All businesses in Massachusetts that employ workers must adhere to specific posting requirements. Employers are required to display labor law posters in the workplace. These posters cover various crucial topics, including minimum wage regulations, health and safety guidelines, and other important labor laws, ensuring that employees are informed of their rights and obligations under Massachusetts labor laws.

Worker Classifications in Massachusetts

Employees and Independent Contractors

Employee classification in Massachusetts entails differentiating between employees and independent contractors. Several factors, such as the degree of control, work autonomy, and job type, are taken into account to make this determination. Accurate classification is crucial, as misclassifying workers may result in legal and financial repercussions. Employers in Massachusetts must adhere to both state and federal laws, including reporting requirements, to ensure proper classification and compliance with employment regulations.

The ABC Test

To categorize an individual as an independent contractor rather than an employee, the employer must conduct the ABC test. To that, they must establish the following:

  • The work is carried out without direct supervision or control by the employer.
  • The tasks are unrelated to the customary operations of the employer’s business.
  • The work is executed by an individual who has their own, independent business or trade doing that kind of work.

For more details on the rights of salaried and hourly employees, you can check out our guides on your rights as a salaried employee in Massachusetts and your rights as an hourly employee in Massachusetts.

Payroll Forms and Relevant Bodies in Massachusetts

Effectively handling payroll in Massachusetts means following several state and federal rules, which often include filling out necessary payroll forms. In this section, we’ll look at the important forms and the relevant authorities in Massachusetts that employers should know to stay compliant and manage payroll responsibilities well.

Massachusetts Payroll Forms

  • Form M-4: Helps employers calculate employee tax withholding.
  • Form M-3: This decides how much state tax to take out for Massachusetts residents.
  • Form M-941: Report filed each quarter to show state income tax taken from employees.

Federal Payroll Forms

  • W-3 Form: This form compiles and presents a summary of the total compensation and taxes paid by all employees.
  • Form 940: This form is used for reporting the unemployment taxes owed to the IRS.
  • Form 941: Employers use this form to report quarterly earnings and deductions for income and FICA taxes withheld from paychecks.
  • W-4 Form: This form aids employers in determining the accurate tax withholding for their employees.
  • W-2 Form: This form is designed to display each employee’s annual earnings.
  • Form 944: This form is used for annual reporting of income and FICA taxes withheld from employee paychecks.
  • 1099 Forms: These forms provide contractors with the necessary information to calculate their IRS tax obligations based on their earnings.

Federal and Massachusetts Payroll/ Tax Bodies

  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The IRS manages federal tax rules, including income tax, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. Employers must follow these national regulations when handling payroll.
  • Department of Labor (DOL): The DOL enforces federal labor laws, such as minimum wage and overtime rules, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Social Security Administration (SSA): The SSA administers Social Security and Medicare programs, including collecting and managing payroll taxes associated with these programs.
  • Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR): The DOR administers and enforces state tax laws in Massachusetts, covering income tax and sales tax. Employers must adhere to state guidelines for tax withholding.
  • Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA): The DUA handles unemployment insurance in Massachusetts, requiring employers to pay unemployment taxes to support benefits for eligible employees who lose their jobs.
  • Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML): The DFML manages the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program, providing paid leave benefits to eligible employees.
  • Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA): The DIA oversees workers’ compensation in Massachusetts, ensuring that employees receive compensation for injuries sustained in the workplace.

Applicable Taxes in Massachusetts

Employer Contributions

  • Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA): The state of Massachusetts complies with the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) which currently sets a standard federal rate, currently 6.0% on the first $7,000 of each employee’s wages.

Withheld from Employee’s Wages

  • Massachusetts Income Taxes: Massachusetts imposes a progressive income tax system rather than a flat rate. The income tax rates vary depending on an individual’s income, with a maximum rate of 5.05%. The tax rates are subject to change, so it’s essential to check the most current rates. Massachusetts also has state tax deductions, credits, and exemptions.
  • Workers’ Compensation in Massachusetts: Massachusetts, like most states, mandates that employers provide workers’ compensation insurance. Employers must obtain and maintain workers’ compensation insurance to cover work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Social Security (FICA) Withholding: Social Security (FICA) withholding is a federal program, so it applies uniformly across all states, including Massachusetts. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for employees, with a cap on income subject to this tax. The cap is set at $147,000. The Medicare tax rate, which is 1.45% for employees, applies to all covered earnings with no income cap. High earners might also be subject to additional Medicare taxes.

Additional Relevant Subtractions to Withhold on Behalf of Employees

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restricts employers from making deductions from employees’ wages unless expressly authorized by the law or with the clear consent of the employees. Here are some instances in which deductions are legally permissible:

  • Jury and Witness Fees: Deductions may be made to account for jury fees, witness fees, or temporary military duty pay received by employees.
  • Safety Violations: Employers have the authority to levy penalties in good faith for serious safety rule violations, and these penalties may be recouped from employees’ wages.
  • Disciplinary Suspensions: Deductions are permissible for unpaid suspensions lasting one or more full days, imposed as a disciplinary measure for violations of workplace rules, as long as they are enacted in good faith.
  • Personal Absence: Employers are allowed to make deductions when employees are absent for personal reasons, encompassing one or more full days, except in cases involving illness or disability.
  • Sickness or Disability: If employees are absent due to sickness or disability for one or more full days, deductions can be made, provided there exists a valid plan or policy in place to compensate for the loss of pay related to illness.
  • Family and Medical Leave: Employers are within their rights to make deductions for unpaid leave taken under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which offers job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.

Key Pay Elements That Impact Payroll in Massachusetts

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in Massachusetts in 2024 remains at $15 per hour. The minimum wage rates are in accordance with federal regulations governing exemptions from mandatory minimum wage requirements. It’s crucial to keep in mind that minimum wage rates can change over time, so staying informed about the current rates is crucial.


In terms of overtime rules, Massachusetts follows the guidelines set forth in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The core principle is that when an employee works more than 40 hours in a workweek, they are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times their regular hourly wage. With Massachusetts’ minimum wage established at $15 per hour, this equates to an overtime rate of $22.50 per hour.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Employers in Massachusetts must comply with regulations regarding Workers’ Compensation Insurance. Workers’ compensation programs serve as a safety net for employees who sustain job-related injuries or illnesses. Additionally, these programs extend disability benefits to workers incapacitated due to work-related factors, mitigating the financial impact when employees require time off from work.

Pay Stub Laws

Employees have the right to receive payment for all hours worked and to receive their pay promptly. They should receive pay statements and have access to their employer’s records of their work hours and earnings. If employees believe their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division.

Paycheck Deduction

Employers are strictly prohibited from subtracting funds from an employee’s earnings to cover regular operational costs, such as supplies, materials, or tools. Should an employer mandate that an employee acquire or lease a uniform, they must either bear the expense of the uniform themselves or reimburse the employee for any cost they’ve spent. These regulations ensure that employees are not burdened with expenses related to the normal functioning of the business and are fairly compensated for any costs associated with their job requirements.

Final Paycheck

Employees who resign from their positions must receive their full payment either on the next scheduled payday or by the first Saturday following their departure if there’s no regular payday in place. For those who are terminated or laid off, they must be paid in full on their final working day. Employers can mandate that employees receive their wages via direct deposit, but they cannot dictate the specific financial institution where the employees will receive their earnings.

Step-by-Step Guide to Payroll in Massachusetts

The state of Massachusetts has specific laws that employers must adhere to. In this section, we will outline the payroll process in clear, actionable steps.

  1. Understand Payroll Regulations: Before commencing payroll procedures in Massachusetts, it is crucial to grasp the payroll regulations that are relevant to your business. These regulations may vary depending on factors like your industry, workforce size, and how your employees are paid, whether hourly or on a salary basis. It’s essential to acquaint yourself with Massachusetts labor laws and federal payroll regulations, among other factors affecting payroll operations.
  2. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): An Employer Identification Number (EIN), issued by the IRS, serves as a unique identifier for tax-related purposes. To fulfill your employment tax and other tax obligations in Massachusetts, obtaining an EIN is a necessary step. The application process is straightforward and can be completed online through the IRS website.
  3. Register with the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Employers in Massachusetts are required to register with the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance for unemployment insurance purposes. This registration is crucial for the accurate reporting and remittance of unemployment taxes to the state. Typically, the registration process can be conveniently executed online through the department’s website.
  4. Employee Classification: Correctly classifying your workforce in Massachusetts as either employees or independent contractors is of paramount importance, as it has significant implications for tax and wage reporting. Misclassification can lead to legal consequences.
  5. Collect Employee Payroll Documentation: Ensure you collect essential payroll documents from your employees in Massachusetts, including W-4 Forms for federal income tax withholding and I-9 Forms for employment eligibility verification.
  6. Track Time and Attendance: Maintaining precise records of employee work hours, breaks, overtime, and leave is a fundamental aspect of accurate payroll management. Compliance with Massachusetts-specific regulations on overtime pay and minimum wage rates requires meticulous record-keeping. Utilizing tools such as time and attendance software can be beneficial.
  7. Establish a Regular Payroll Schedule: Massachusetts mandates the establishment of a consistent payroll cycle to adhere to state labor regulations. The frequency of payroll disbursements may vary, but it should be consistent and transparently communicated to employees to keep them informed about their pay schedule.
  8. Compute Gross Earnings: Accurate calculation of gross earnings is vital in Massachusetts, where distinct wage and overtime regulations apply. These calculations should encompass various components, such as commissions, bonuses, overtime pay, and expense reimbursements, in accordance with state laws.
  9. Federal Payroll Tax Compliance in Massachusetts: Adhere to IRS guidelines for depositing employment taxes according to the prescribed schedule, a practice that applies not only in Massachusetts but also in other states.
  10. Maintenance of Payroll Records: In Massachusetts, it’s necessary to maintain precise employee payroll records, including work hours, pay statements, tax forms, and other pertinent paperwork. State and federal laws necessitate the retention of these records for a minimum of three years to comply with audit regulations and address potential inquiries from tax authorities.
  11. Annual Payroll Reporting: Ensure the completion of essential annual government reports, such as W-2 and 1099 forms, which should be provided to employees by the designated deadline.

Final Thoughts

Administering payroll in Massachusetts presents its challenges. Individuals must navigate the state’s specific minimum wage standards, tax responsibilities, and labor legislation. To simplify payroll management, explore our recommendations for the top 6 applications tailored to streamline payroll duties in the United States. If you’re already using a system, we’ve detailed ten tips to enhance your payroll procedures within the United States.

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.