Massachusetts law a step toward eliminating gender pay gap

A Massachusetts law signed this year is a big step toward eliminating gender-based pay discrimination.

In April 2016, the U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee released a report about gender inequality in terms of pay. In it are a number of shocking statistics, including that women earn roughly 79 percent of what men do. Comparing men and women who work all year long in a full-time position, the report states that women earn $10,800 less than men.

Fortunately, many states are taking action to close that gap. Massachusetts passed a law this year that is a step in the right direction.

What is the law?

The law, dubbed "An Act to Establish Pay Equity," was signed in August 2016 and goes into effect in July 2018. The act clearly prohibits gender-based discrimination when determining someone's salary, benefits or other wages, which is already illegal on a federal level. Therefore, men and women who do comparable work must be paid equally.

More specifically, the law states that hiring managers must develop a compensation figure for a position up front. Further, it bars employers from asking applicants what they earned in a previous position, and it enables employees to inquire about their own salary and other employees' earnings.

Are there exceptions?

Yes. The law takes into account that there are circumstances in which one employee may earn more than another when they both do comparable work. Those situations include having a bona fide system in place for the following:

  • Seniority
  • Geography, accounting for such as cost of living
  • Merit
  • Education or other qualifications needed for the job
  • Sales-based incentives
  • Compensation for travel

The law does state that if an employer factors seniority into someone's wages, the employee's pregnancy condition or protected family leave cannot reduce his or her seniority.

What are the consequences of a violation?

An employer who violates the law may be held liable for compensating the employee for the unpaid wages, as well as for any other compensation or benefits that were missed. Even if the employee signed an agreement that stated he or she would earn the lesser amount, the employer may still be held accountable.

When must the claim be filed?

People who are affected by these violations must bring action within three years of the practice's implementation. Each unpaid wage or other practice counts as resetting the clock. Therefore, if an employee has been with a company for five years earning the same unequal pay, his or her most recent paycheck would start the clock running on the three-year timeframe.

Through providing transparency in the workplace, this law empowers people to discover if there is inequity and take action. Anyone who has concerns about this issue should speak with an employment law attorney in Massachusetts.

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