State Senator Jason Lewis recently highlighted aspects of the new Massachusetts Pay Equity Law. The law, which Lewis believes could be a model for a future federal law, increases the transparency of pay, prohibits companies asking about previous earnings, and legally defines the phrase “equal pay for comparable work”. According to data from the state, women are paid an average of 82 percent of what their male counterparts make for comparable work in Massachusetts.
While laws requiring equal pay for women have been on the books in Massachusetts since the 1940s, Lewis says these laws were flawed in several ways, including that the former law did not adequately define “comparable work”. The new statute clarifies comparable work by declaring that comparable positions require similar education, training, and experience, while recognizing exceptions for certain jobs where employees are paid on commission.
Transparency of pay has been accomplished by making sure that employees are allowed to share information about their earnings in the workplace without fear of repercussion. The new law also prevents employers from asking about a person’s previous earnings before extending their own offer. “One of the things that perpetuates these inequalities,” Lewis continued, “is if an employer knows what you were paid in your last job, they may offer you a little more than that, which may be less than what they were willing to pay, and that perpetuates inequality for women.”
According to Lewis, lawmakers worked hard with the business community to prevent an environment with the possibility of a lot of lawsuits. “Businesses . . . that demonstrate they are serious about closing these pay gaps would not be subject to a lawsuit,” Lewis explained.
The bill passed both houses of the legislature unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on August 1st. The new law does not take effect until July 1, 2018.