Despite passing an equal pay law in 1945, Massachusetts - and the rest of the United States - see a persisting gender pay gap. In July, Massachusetts’s updated version of the law, known as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), goes into effect - providing the state with more guidance on unlawful wage discrimination practices and more.
MEPA directly states that, 'No employer shall discriminate in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or pay any person in its employ a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to its employees of a different gender for comparable work.'
Who’s Covered by MEPA?
Nearly all employees in Massachusetts are covered, including state government employees. However, the law does not apply to federal government employees. Although, if an employer has workers that reside outside of Massachusetts, the law applies to them if that employer has nexus in the state. Employees covered include full-time, part-time, seasonal, per-diem, and temporary employees.
What is Comparable Work?
Comparable work consists of work performed under similar conditions that requires similar effort, skill, and responsibility. This definition is broader than the law’s previously stated 'equal work.' Determining if certain jobs are comparable requires further analysis. If a statutory exception exists, an employer does not have to provide equal wages.
What is a Statutory Exception?
MEPA allows unequal pay for comparable work only when a statutory exception exists. This is based upon (directly pulled from statute):
- A system that rewards seniority with the employer (provided, however, that time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition and protected parental, family and medical leave, shall not reduce seniority)
- A merit system
- A system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue
- The geographic location in which a job is performed
- Education, training, or experience to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the particular job in question
- Travel, if the travel is a regular and necessary condition of the particular job
What is Included in 'Equal Wages?'
Wages include salaries, commissions, bonuses, paid time off, vacation time, holiday pay, expense accounts, car allowances, retirement plans, health insurance, and other benefits. This also includes deferred compensation.
Other Components to MEPA
Under MEPA, employers cannot prohibit their employees from discussing their wages among their cohorts. Employers also cannot ask for past salary history from prospective employees during the interview process. And lastly, employers cannot retaliate against any worker who exercises his or her right under MEPA.
Affirmative Defense of MEPA
If an employer knowingly violates MEPA, that company is liable for twice the amount of unpaid wages to the affected employee or employees, plus any legal fees.
Though, if an employer believes the company is not at fault, there is 'affirmative defense.' This means an employer can conduct a good-faith, self-evaluation of its pay practices in the last three years and prove the equal pay law was not violated.
Massachusetts may be the first to pass an all-exclusive law like this, but other states are following suit by proposing laws to prohibit employers from asking about previous salaries. California, Delaware, and Oregon have already enacted similar restrictions. Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas may pass similar bans soon, all in an effort to propel equal pay further across the country.
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