A Groundbreaking New Pay Equity Law

Beginning July 1, 2018, employers in Massachusetts will be prohibited from asking job candidates about their salary history before offering them a job or asking candidates’ former employers about their pay. The new law, the Pay Equity Act, is designed to reduce the pay disparities between men and women in the workplace.

Although other states (including California and Maryland) have also enacted recent legislation designed to reduce pay inequity, Massachusetts is the first state to ban employers from asking about candidates’ salary history. The law, signed earlier this week by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, not only had bipartisan support in the state legislature but also from business groups such as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Nationally, women still earn only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Because companies tend to use candidates’ pay history as a guideline in making offers, these inequities can follow candidates throughout their lifetimes, pay-equity advocates say.

The Massachusetts law, which amends and expands upon the state’s pre-existing pay equity law, also makes it illegal for employers to ban employees from discussing their pay with others and will require equal pay employees whose work is “of comparable character or work in comparable operations.” The law also bars employers from reducing the pay of any employee in order to come into compliance with the Pay Equity Act.

The law also increases the penalties for violations, according to an analysis by law firm Holland & Knight:

The law expands the remedies available to plaintiffs by extending the statute of limitations from one year to three years, and creating a continuing violation provision under which a new violation of the law occurs each time an employee is paid an unequal amount. This provision may permit employees to recover years of back pay discrepancies as well as liquidated damages. Fines are increased from $100 to $1,000 per violation. There is no requirement that an employee file first with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Lawsuits may be filed directly in court.

Notably, however, the law features a safe harbor provision for employers that have been accused of pay discrimination, writes attorney Victoria Fuller of White and Williams:

Employers may avoid liability for pay discrimination under the Act if they can show within the last three years and before the commencement of the action, they have completed a good-faith self-evaluation of their pay practices and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating compensation differentials based on gender for comparable work in accordance with the evaluation.