While Massachusetts has had a pay equity law since 1945, the state recently strengthened the Equal Pay Act to close the gender gap with new worker protections that will go into effect July 1:

  • The amended law includes a broader definition of comparable work that is more favorable for employees bringing a pay-discrimination claim
  • Employers can no longer ask candidates about their previous salaries or contact a former employer to confirm their wages until after an offer is made, although nothing prohibits a prospective employee from voluntarily providing the information
  • Under the updated Act, companies can’t prevent employees from discussing wages
  • Businesses can’t retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the law

Defining Comparable Work

Under the amended law, companies can’t discriminate, based on gender, in the payment of wages for comparable work. The law defines comparable work as that which requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions. To determine comparable work, employers must not just rely on job titles or descriptions.

The law permits certain wage variations, however, such as those based on a legitimate merit or seniority system, geographic location, education, and travel requirements.

Steep Penalties for Violations

The Act makes it easier for workers to bring a claim, and the penalties can be steep: employers who violate the equal pay provision of the law are liable for twice the amount of the unpaid wages owed to the affected employee plus attorney’s fees, and those who violate one of the other provisions may be required to pay any damages actually incurred by the employee or applicant.

What the Updated Law Means for HR

To comply with the law, companies need to make sure their pay practices are fair. One way to do this is to complete a self-evaluation to identify any disparities, which also affords companies a defense to claims if they can demonstrate that they completed a review and made reasonable progress towards eliminating pay differences based on gender.

In addition, since the law presents new challenges to those screening and interviewing job candidates and negotiating offers, companies should train hiring managers and other potential interviewers about the new law’s restrictions on salary history questions and what’s still permissible, such as asking about compensation expectations.

More guidance is available from the Office of the Attorney General. Or contact the experts at Complete Payroll Solutions by clicking the image below.

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