Massachusetts Designates Juneteenth as a State Holiday

By Christopher B. Kaczmarek and Stephen Melnick © Littler Mendelson August 5, 2020
Boston waterfront

On July 24, Gov. Baker signed a bill designating Juneteenth (June 19th) as an annual state holiday in Massachusetts. In doing so, Baker stated that this designation would help "recognize the continued need to ensure racial freedom and equality." This designation also creates new obligations for many retail employers in Massachusetts by adding Juneteenth to the list of holidays covered by the Blue Laws.

The Blue Laws are a collection of Massachusetts laws that establish a general rule that most employers may not be open for business on Sundays and certain holidays. Over the years, the legislature has amended these laws to contain over 50 exceptions.

For example, the legislature has created an exemption for retail stores, provided that retail stores that employ more than seven people compensate employees for work on Saturday and Sunday (excluding executives, administrative employees or professional employees who earn more than $200.00 per week) at a premium rate of pay. 

In 2020, that premium rate of pay is 1.3 times an employee's regular rate of pay. The premium is scheduled to decrease by .1 percent per year until it is entirely eliminated in 2023.

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The Blue Laws also create different obligations on retailers for different holidays. First, the Blue Laws establish certain unrestricted holidays. On these holidays, work may be performed without a permit, but employers may not require employees to work (although employees may choose to do so voluntarily), and the premium pay requirement is applicable. The unrestricted holidays are as follows: 

  • Martin Luther King Day.
  • Presidents' Day.
  • Evacuation Day.
  • Patriots' Day.
  • Bunker Hill Day.

Second, the Blue Laws create some "partially restricted" holidays. On these days, work may be performed without a permit, but the premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements are applicable. The partially restricted holidays are as follows: 

  • New Year's Day.
  • Memorial Day.
  • Independence Day.
  • Labor Day.
  • Columbus Day after 12:00 noon.
  • Veterans' Day after 1:00 p.m.

Third, the Blue Laws create "restricted" holidays. On these days, work may be performed only if the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) and the local police department have issued appropriate permits. DLS generally issues such permits that are applicable to all retail employers on a statewide basis. On these days, the premium pay and voluntariness of employment requirements are applicable. The restricted holidays are as follows: 

  • Columbus Day before 12:00 noon.
  • Veterans' Day before 1:00 p.m.
  • Thanksgiving Day.
  • Christmas Day.

The new law effectively adds Juneteenth to the list of "partially restricted" holidays.  As a result, employers may be open on Juneteenth. But, retailers subject to the retail exemption to the Blue Laws must provide premium pay to employees who work on Juneteenth, and voluntariness restrictions will apply. In June 2021, that premium rate will be 1.2 times an employee's regular rate of pay, in June 2022 the rate will be 1.1 times the regular rate of pay, and in June 2023, the premium pay requirement will phase out entirely.

Christopher B. Kaczmarek and Stephen Melnick are attorneys with Littler Mendelson in Boston. © 2020 Littler Mendelson. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission. 



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