Effective July 1, 2018, Massachusetts has amended its equal pay act. The new law makes it easier for an employee to prove that she (or he) was paid less than employees of a different gender for performing comparable work. The law also prohibits employers from seeking information about a job applicant’s salary history and from maintaining policies which prohibit employees from sharing information about their wages and other compensation.

Here are some answers to commonly-asked questions about the new law. Please note these are only summaries which do not address all of the provisions of the law.

Q: Which employers are covered?
A: All employers with at least one employee in Massachusetts.

Q: Doesn’t Massachusetts already have an equal pay act?
A: Yes, but a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1995 (Jancey v. School Committee of Everett) interpreted the existing statute to require lower-paid female cafeteria employees to prove that their job was comparable in “substantive job content” to higher paid male janitors.

Q: How does the new law change that?
A: The new law defines “comparable work” as work that requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions. This is basically what the trial court found in the Jancey case about the positions of the cafeteria employees and the janitors, but the SJC ruled otherwise by requiring proof of similar job content.

Q: What pay practices are illegal under the new law?
A: Employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, benefits or other compensation, and from paying any person a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to employees of a different gender for comparable work.

Q: Are there any exceptions to the requirement of equal pay?
A: Yes, variations in wages are permitted if based upon: (a) a bona fide system that rewards seniority with the employer; (b) a bona fide merit system; (c) a bona fide system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production or sales; (d) the geographic location in which a job is performed; (e) education, training or experience to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the particular job in question and consistent with business necessity; or (f) travel, if the travel is a regular and necessary condition of the particular job.

Q: What else does the law prohibit?
A: Employers cannot prohibit employees from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about either the employee’s own wages, including benefits or other compensation, or about any other employee’s wages.

Employers also cannot request or require that applicants disclose their prior wages or salary history, and cannot seek the salary history of an applicant from any current or former employer. As an exception, after an offer of employment has been made to an applicant,
the applicant can provide written authorization to a prospective employer to confirm prior wages.

Q: What if an employer decides to review its compensation practices to see if they comply with the law?
A: The law provides a defense to an employer who conducts a good-faith self-evaluation of its pay practices and can show reasonable progress towards eliminating compensation differentials based on gender for comparable work.

Q: Are employers required to notify employees of their rights under the new law?
A: Yes. All employers must post a notice “in a conspicuous place in at least 1 location where employees congregate” notifying employees of their rights under the state equal pay act.

At Boston Employment Law PC, we represent both employers and employees with respect to a wide variety of employment law issues. For more information, please contact Howard Brown at hmb@bostonemploymentlaw.com or at (617) 566-8090.