The Law @ Work

Massachusetts Employees Get a Break: Blue Laws Prevent Retailers from Getting a Head Start on Black Friday

For many shoppers, the biggest day of the year is coming up as Black Friday is just two weeks away.  This year, big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target will begin the festivities early by opening their doors around dinner-time on Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Massachusetts shoppers will have to wait until Friday thanks to the state’s Blue Laws.

Massachusetts’ Blue Laws (Chapter 136 of the Massachusetts General Laws) restrict retail activity on Sundays and many holidays, including Thanksgiving.   For retailers, there are three classes of holidays that each carry different rules on required permits and compensation for employees.  For “unrestricted” holidays (MLK Day, President’s Day, Evacuation Day, Patriot’s Day, and Bunker Hill Day), no permit is required and employees do not have to be paid time-and-a-half for working the holiday.  For “partially restricted” holidays (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day after noon, and Veterans’ Day after 1 p.m.), no permit is required but employees must be paid time-and-a-half for working the holiday.  The last class of holidays is “restricted” holidays (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Columbus Day before noon, and Veteran’s Day before 1 p.m.), which require the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards to issue statewide approval of permits that are then granted by the local police chiefs, and require time-and-a-half pay for employees.

For 2013, the Department of Labor Standards has announced that it will not be issuing permits, so big-box retailers and mom-and-pop shops alike won’t be able to take advantage of the Black Friday shopping wave until it is actually Black Friday.  Employers will be able to require their employees to work on Black Friday at regular pay, but may lose some business to the most fanatic shoppers that head to border states’ retailers who have gotten a head start on the shopper’s holiday.

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