The Law @ Work

Massachusetts House Passes Gender Pay Equity Bill

by Susan G. Fentin

On July 14, the Massachusetts House passed a bill that would prohibit employers from paying a woman less than a man if the two workers had comparable jobs.  This bill (H. 4509) will now go to a conference committee to resolve differences between this version and a version passed by the Senate in January.  The House bill contains a number of exceptions to the requirement that both men and women be paid equally.  Under the House bill, disparity in pay between men and women does not violate the statute if the difference is based on:

  • Seniority;
  • Merit;
  • The geographic location where the job is performed;
  • Education, training, or experience, if reasonably related to the job;
  • Travel, if travel is a regular and necessary condition of the job; or
  • The quantity or quality of the employee’s work.

Although the bill permits differences in wages based on seniority, it specifically states that time spent on leave because of a pregnancy-related condition or protected parental or family and medical leave may not affect an employee’s seniority.  The House bill also prohibits employers from asking applicants about their salary history, but permits that inquiry after an offer of employment with compensation information has been made to the applicant.  The purpose for this provision is to force employers to decide what the job is worth and make an offer before any discussion of prior earnings is allowed.  The bill also prohibits employers from penalizing employees who share salary information with one another.  Female employees who believe they have been paid less than their male counterparts are allowed to bring suit against their employers without first filing a charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The bill applies to both public and private employers and would take effect on July 1, 2018.  Employers who review their internal salary practices would be protected from liability for three years.  It’s not clear whether the legislature will be able to achieve compromise on the two versions of the bill before it adjourns for the year at the end of July, and although Governor Baker has supported the concept of gender pay equity, he has not commented on this particular version of the legislation.  Stay tuned for further developments in this significant legislative initiative.

Share this