Early this month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed Bill S2119, a historic new law that supporters say will finally close the income gap between the sexes. The bill, which Gov. Baker signed on August 1st surrounded by state lawmakers, provides crucial expansions to income equality. Massachusetts has a bit of legacy in these types of laws – in 1954, the Commonwealth passed the first legislation related to gender discrimination. It is only fitting that now, over 60 years later, they are again leading the nation is pay equity legislation.
There are some attention-grabbing aspects of this new bill that are worth noting and have already been grabbing headlines. Foremost is the addition of language that helps finally realize the goal of pay equality. The bill uses the phrase, “substantially similar,” to define the types of work men and women cannot be paid unequally for. This is crucial. An example of how this new language will be applied is related to a lawsuit from the late 1980s. A group of female cafeteria workers at Everett High School realized that they were compensated far less than they predominately male custodian staff. The initial ruling in their favor was overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1998, citing that the two groups work was not considered comparable and thus had no requirement of equal pay. Now, these types of work, which could be reasonably considered substantially similar, are legally bound to pay equality.
Another interesting facet of the new bill is barring potential employers from inquiring about your current and past salaries in interviews. By not allowing compensation disclosures in interviews, the hope is that previous income discrimination can be nipped in the bud when moving to a new company. If an employer knows that a potential employee’s previous salary is 21% lower than industry standard, giving them an offer at a 10% bump is still inequitable. Not allowing employers to inquire about past compensation can level the playing field, and empower interviewees to get more for their talents.
Additionally, the law bans any restrictions in the workplace on employees discussing their salary amongst themselves. It increases the statute of limitations on equal pay claims from one to three years.
With any change to labor laws, a windfall of lawsuits is sure to follow. And with Bill S2119 taking effect on January 1st 2018, employers have some time to make sure they are compliant.
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