Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

Landmark Equal Pay Law Enacted in Massachusetts

By Joan Farrell, JD, Senior Legal Editor

The governor of Massachusetts recently signed significant new equal pay legislation into law. Like the equal pay laws recently enacted in other states, the Massachusetts law provides a definition for “comparable work” and protects employees who discuss their compensation with coworkers. But the new law differs from the equal pay laws in other states in one important aspect.

Unlike the laws in other states, the Massachusetts law prohibits employers from asking about a job applicant’s pay history—at least until after the employer has extended an offer of employment that includes compensation. Many employers have a practice of basing a new employee’s pay on his or her pay history rather than making an offer based on the value of the position. This can be a disadvantage to those who have entered the workforce at a lower pay rate and have historically been paid less; and it can perpetuate gender-based pay disparity.

Under the new law, an employer can require a prospective employee to confirm prior wages or salary, or to permit the prospective employer to do so, if the prospective employee has voluntarily disclosed such information. The employer can also confirm salary information after it has extended an offer of employment with compensation to the prospective employee. There are exceptions built into the law that prohibit disclosure of wage information by human resources employees, supervisors, and other employees who have access to compensation information.

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