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Massachusetts Pay Equity Law Set to Go into Effect July 1

Massachusetts’ new pay equity law amending the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) is set to take effect July 1. The law is intended to reduce the pay gap between men and women by providing a broader definition of “comparable work” and limiting the acceptable reasons for paying people of different genders differently.

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The new law also prohibits employers from seeking information regarding the salary history of job applicants. As amended, the MEPA will allow only six reasons for paying different wages to people of different genders: (1) a seniority system, (2) a merit system, (3) a system that measures earnings by the quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue (such as piecework or sales commissions), (4) the geographic location of the job, (5) education, training, and experience to the extent those factors are reasonably related to the job, or (6) the amount of travel required if it’s a regular and necessary condition of the job.

The MEPA also has no size threshold. It applies to all nonfederal employers with employees who primarily work in Massachusetts, regardless of size. Also, employees don’t have to spend most of their working time in Massachusetts for the state to be their primary place of work.

The law contains strict prohibitions on seeking the salary history of job applicants, but employers can still ask applicants what their salary expectations are. However, employers must be careful how they ask for and use such information. Questions about salary expectations can’t be designed to obtain information about an applicant’s salary history, and an employee’s salary expectations can’t be used to justify paying the employee more or less than someone of a different gender.

One important aspect of the new law is its provision of an affirmative defense to employers that complete a “good-faith” self-evaluation of their pay practices before receiving a pay equity complaint. Guidance from the attorney general explains that for an employer to be eligible for the affirmative defense, its self-evaluation must be reasonable in detail and scope and must include the job that is the subject of the complaint.

If a self-evaluation reveals wage disparities, the employer must show that it made reasonable progress toward eliminating the disparities if they couldn’t be explained by one of the six justifications provided by the law.

For more information on Massachusetts’ new pay equity law, see the April 2018 issue of Massachusetts Employment Law Letter.

Kimberly A. Klimczuk is an attorney with Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., in Springfield and a contributor to Massachusetts Employment Law Letter. She can be reached at kklimczuk@skoler-abbott.com.