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Girls & Women

New Massachusetts Law Requires Equal Pay for Comparable Work

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker smiles with Lt. Gov. Karen Polito, left, and Dorothy Simonelli, right, and others after he signed a bill into law at the Statehouse, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, in Boston. Baker signed into law a bill requiring men and women be paid equally for comparable work in Massachusetts. Simonelli fought for equal pay as a cafeteria worker starting in the late 1980s at the Everett, Mass. school district.
AP: Elise Amendola

The US state of Massachusetts will make sure "people are paid what they are worth based only on what they are worth and not on something else," said Gov. Charlie Baker as he signed a new bill into state law this week. The new Pay Equity Act requires employers to pay women the same as men for “comparable” work. Further, the law will level the playing field for all employees seeking fair compensation by stopping pay secrecy and banning employers from asking for applicant’s salary history.

Women in Massachusetts are paid about 82% of the compensation given to male colleagues doing comparable work. The disparity is even more extreme for non-Caucasian women.

The new law is groundbreaking for its “comparable” standard between men and women. Most equal pay laws in the United States require employers to offer the same compensation to people doing the exact same job. The Massachusetts bill defines the new standard as work being “substantially similar in content and requiring substantially similar skill, effort, responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”

This is important after years of companies using minute differences in responsibility or title to justify gender wage gaps. Broadening the assessment to “comparable work” gives women seeking fair pay a much larger range of jobs to reference when talking to their employers.

The new legislation has further provisions that empower employees of all genders.

In a national first, employers in Massachusetts must make a job offer with a detailed compensation package before asking applicants for a salary history. In the past, some companies have used salary history to either weed out high-priced candidates or justify lower wage offers.

Employees will also have a much better understanding of the pay scale within their companies. Companies in Massachusetts will no longer be able to ban their employees from discussing their pay. This long-standing practice deprived employees of valuable information that left them in significantly weaker positions during wage negotiations. In some instances, employment provisions like this gave companies an excuse to fire a person with too clear an understanding of any internal pay gaps.

The Massachusetts House and Senate passed the law unanimously during a rare weekend session on Saturday.

"Today in Massachusetts, we can say that equal pay for equal work is not just a slogan. It's the law," said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Senator Pat Jehlen.

The bill will go into effect on July 1, 2018. Employers will not be allowed to lower existing salaries to comply with the law.