New Massachusetts Law Offers Example of How States Can Address Pay Inequity

October 7, 2016

In August 2016, a bipartisan Massachusetts legislature and a Republican governor unanimously enacted a new pay equity law aimed at ensuring equal compensation and benefits for male and female employees in similar positions performing similar work. In addition to a general prohibition against pay discrimination, the Act includes some innovative provisions that provide examples for other states to follow in the ongoing campaign against pay inequity.

In Line with other States

Like employment laws recently enacted in other states, Massachusetts makes it illegal for an employer to “discriminate in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, including benefits or other compensation, or pay any person a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to employees of a different gender for comparable work.”  According to the Act, “comparable work” constitutes work that is “substantially similar” relative to skill, effort, responsibility, and work conditions with little regard to job title or job description. 

Consistent with other states and various federal statutes, the new law not only prohibits employers from firing, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against job candidates or employees who object to any unlawful pay practice or policy under the Act, but also protects employees from retaliation for inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about his or her own or an other’s compensation.

In an other showing of the Massachusetts legislature’s pro-employee stance, the law extends the period in which an employee may bring a pay discrimination action from one to three years.

Job Applicants Can Keep Their Cards Close to Their Vests

other provisions of the Act are the first of their kind to be seen in the U.S., putting Massachusetts at the forefront of the fight against gender pay inequity.

for example, under the law, an employee may not lawfully:

  • Seek a job candidate’s salary history from a current or former employer, unless the candidate gives written authorization to do so after an offer of employment is extended
  • Screen job candidates based on their wage, salary, benefits, or compensation histories, including requiring candidates to provide compensation histories as a condition of being interviewed or as a condition for continued consideration for employment

Prohibiting an employer from demanding or even requesting a pay history from a job applicant is the most progressive and innovative piece of the Act. It is a common practice for employers, especially lower-wage workers, to receive employment offers based on what they earned in previous jobs, perpetuating pay inequality.

By eliminating that practice, or at least leaving it to the discretion of the candidate to disclose the information only after an offer is made, Massachusetts has made major strides to eliminate wage disparity.

Removing the gag from employees’ ability to discuss compensation is an equally important development. A subject of TEDTalks and other forums, employers’ secrecy and lack of transparency regarding comparable compensation for comparable work plays a large part in pay equity, so pulling back the curtain and encouraging dialog among co-workers is a substantial step forward. That openness has reasonable limits, though, which the Massachusetts law addresses by allowing employers to still require confidentiality among human resources professionals, managers, supervisors, and others privy to compensation information as part of their job responsibilities.

Outten & Golden represents victims of pay inequity across the country, and Massachusetts’ new pay equity law marks a potential bellweThere change that we hope to see quickly spread to other states.


(*Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.)