Working Well

Pay Equity Act a Step Toward Gender Equality

Massachusetts is doing things no other state has done before — and that might be a sign to expect similar laws in other states.

Financial security is a luxury many people don’t have. Both men and women worry about retirement, but women worry about it more, according to an Insured Retirement Institute survey released in November 2015. Fifty-four percent of women are very concerned about being able to retire when they want to, the study found, compared to 34 percent of men.

WF_WebSite_BlogHeaders-13One reason women may have more financial worries, the study noted, is income disparities.

Massachusetts is the first state to address this gendered income inequality with the most robust equal pay law in the country, the Massachusetts Pay Equity Act, which passed Aug. 1. According to Amanda Baer, an associate at Mirick O’Connell’s Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Group and Litigation Group, a couple of factors make it particularly robust: major substantive and procedural changes.

Substantively, it requires equal pay based for comparable work. The previous law also used the words “comparable work.” However, while the old definition was very narrow, the new definition is broader, Baer said. Types of work and even job titles don’t have to be exactly the same.

“This is beyond what we see in most pay equity laws,” she added. “Most require equal pay for exact same work.”

Most notably, it prohibits employers from asking applicants for salary and wage history. It’s the first law in the country to impose this prohibition on employers, she said. It’s meant to combat wage inequality from perpetuating from employer to employer. Employers will now have to make an offer based off skills and what the job should pay, rather than a candidate’s compensation history.

Finally, on the procedural level, the new law makes it easier for the plaintiff in pay inequity cases, Baer said. For example, the statute of limitations has been expanded from 300 days to three years.

The Massachusetts Pay Equity Act will take effect in July 2018, although Baer says that companies should take action sooner and conduct self-evaluation of their pay practices.

“We’re advising employers to remove salary history from applications sooner rather than later,” she said. “Because with all the attention this law has been getting, if an applicant sees that question, they’re going to be put off.”

New York and California are the other states which have recently passed pay equity laws, although theirs are not as strong as Massachusetts’. But, based on past trends, Baer anticipates that other states will follow.

“We’ve been seeing this trend in recent memory, with gay marriage and health care and transgender rights,” she said. “Massachusetts has been leading the charge and other states follow suit pretty quickly.”

Although the prohibition factor of the law will still impact other discriminated groups, the law was created to combat pay inequity with gender.

“To me that seems a good first step, but I can definitely see the legislature extending this to prohibit any type of discrimination, because you can have discrimination based on disability or race or national origin within the same gender,” said Baer. “I think we’ll see this [law] broaden over time.”

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below, or email at aburjek@humancapitalmedia.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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