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Legislature Approves Compromise Wage-Equity Bill

Posted on July 21, 2016

The Massachusetts Legislature unanimously passed on Saturday a compromise pay-equity bill hammered out among House leaders, the attorney general and the business community. The measure now goes to Governor Charlie Baker.

StateHouse-resized-600.png“The business community is gratified that legislative leaders are moving forward with a bill that ensures fair compensation for all workers while allowing employers to attract and retain skilled employees,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

“House Speaker Robert DeLeo and his leadership team deserve tremendous credit for reaching out directly to AIM and really listening to the concerns of employers.”

The legislation is intended to promote salary transparency, limit upfront questions to job candidates about salary history, and encourage companies to conduct reviews to detect pay disparities. It explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees. 

That recognition will allow employers to continue to reward star performers and to compete in the white-hot market for workers with skills such as computer programming, engineering, advanced manufacturing and biosciences.

The bill 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.” Wage differentials are permitted, however, based upon:

  • a system that rewards seniority with the employer
  • a merit system
  • a system that 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; or
  • travel, if the travel is a regular and necessary condition of the particular job.

There were several additional provisions that persuaded AIM and its 4,000 member employers to support the House bill:

  • It provides a three-year affirmative defense from liability to employers who conduct a self-evaluation of their pay practices in good faith and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating wage differentials based on gender for comparable work. The self-evaluation may be of the employer’s own design, so long as it is reasonable in detail and scope in light of the size of the employer, or may be consistent with standard templates or forms issued by the attorney general.
  • Affirms the ability of employers to protect the confidential information about employee wages should another employee seek that information.

John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM, credited DeLeo, Speaker Pro Temp Patricia Haddad of Somerset, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Attorney General Healey for developing a workable compromise on pay equity.

The law would take effect on July 1, 2018.