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Payment of vacation, working on holidays, and the Massachusetts Blue Laws

vacation holiday pay

Yesterday was Labor Day, and USA Today ran this piece about the state of Americans working verses vacationing. They reported that Americans:

Don’t use vacation days: 41% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day in 2015, according to a Skift survey. Fifty-five percent of Americans didn’t use all of their vacation days in 2015, according to a recent Project Time Off study.

Work holidays: More than one-third of employers require employees to work on Thanksgiving, according to a 2015 Bloomberg BNA survey. Nearly two in five organizations (39%) will require some employees to work Christmas or New Year's, BNA reports. And, this weekend, 41% of employers will have some staff working on Labor Day.

What are some employment laws relating to vacation and holiday work?

First, a quick recap as to what Massachusetts employment law requires as to vacation. There is no entitlement to paid vacation under the law. (Due to recent legislation, there is now as to sick time -- see here.) In other words, an employer is not required to provide vacation time, paid or not paid.

If an employer does provide vacation, however, this vacation time must be paid out in full upon separation from employment. M.G.L. c. 149, s. 148.

If one leaves his or her job voluntarily, all accrued (or earned) vacation must be paid out in full on the following regular pay day. Id. If the employee is fired, that person must be paid out his or her vacation in full on the date he or she is let go. Id.

This is a fairly common employment law violation. Sometimes, it falls through the cracks. Other times, larger companies that operate in multiple states don't know or appreciate the finer points of individual state laws, as state laws differ. Such was the case in a matter of mine several years back involving Toys “R” Us, which failed to pay $95,800 worth of vacation to 813 employees when they left work.

What about working on holidays?

Massachusetts has what are commonly known as the "Blue Laws." These special laws regulate what can open -- and thus who can work -- on Sundays and holidays. The laws originated in order to ensure that certain activities (such as, initially, the sale of alcohol on Sunday) were not taking place and that, therefore, employees also wouldn't be required to work.

The rules are very detailed, often times arbitrary, and they have evolved over time. I am solely going to provide a broad overview of the special rules regarding retail establishments here as they are among the most common violations.

On holidays, such as Labor Day, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day (July 4th), Columbus Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day -- retail establishments might be able to stay open (though sometimes a permit is required). But if they are permitted to open, they must pay their workers time and one-half their regular rate of pay. Further, workers must not be required to work on these days.

Those rules do not apply to other holidays, however, such as Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Evacuation Day, Patriots' Day, and Bunker Hill Day.

If you have questions relating to vacation pay or the Blue Laws and holiday pay, contact me to talk it through.

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