The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) is Getting a Facelift - Here’s What You Need to Know
While Massachusetts was the first state in the country to pass an equal pay law in 1945, the gender pay gap unfortunately persisted. According to Mass.gov, women working full-time in Massachusetts earn, on average, about 84.3% of what men earn, and the gap is more significant for women of color. On July 1, the state will join New York City in updating its pay equity law. Known as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), the update is intended to provide more clarity on what constitutes unlawful wage discrimination, and it includes added protections to ensure greater fairness and equity in the workplace.
Before MEPA goes into effect, it is important for businesses to know what the amendment entails and what happens if they’re found in violation.
At its core, the amendment requires employers to pay employees the same wage for equitable work. While this sounds relatively simple, it’s important to understand the nuances of the act.
The law states that employers may not discriminate on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or pay any person a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to employees “of a different gender for comparable work.” In understanding these statements, we need to clarify the meanings of “wages” and “comparable work.”
“Wages” refer to all forms of remuneration for work performance - including commissions, bonuses, profit sharing and vacation time.
“Comparable Work” refers to all work that requires substantially similar skill, effort, responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions (without reference to “character” or “characteristics” of a job).
While the law says that employers must pay employees the same wage for equitable work, it also provides clear qualifications around the pieces of information from which employers can use to base a salary offer. These include:
Seniority (time spent on protected maternity leave cannot reduce seniority)
Quantity and quality of production, sales or revenue
Geographic location or requirement of travel
Education, training or experience (to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the particular job in question)
The new law is designed to address the gender pay gap by implementing a framework that dismantles the practices that have historically perpetuated the gender pay gap. Employers can no longer inquire about a prospective employee’s wage or salary history before an employment offer is made. Per the Attorney General's office, employers are, however, permitted to request a prospective employee’s salary expectation as long as the employer does not ask improper follow-up questions or prompt the candidate for information relating to current compensation.
Furthermore, the amendment states that employers may not prohibit employees from disclosing or discussing their wages, benefits or other compensation with one another, and it also prevents retaliation against any employee who exercises those rights.
In order to determine compliance, companies can perform a self-evaluation, which involves undergoing a “Pay Equity Review.” This review requires data gathering and analysis of both job and employee information. Templates can be found on the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website.
As an added incentive, performing a self-evaluation will offer a degree of protection to any company that’s found in violation of the law. To receive that protection, a company must have completed an evaluation of “reasonable scope and detail” within the past three years and demonstrate that progress has been made towards eliminating wage differentials.
You made a mistake - what now?
Penalties under the amendment are costlier than ever, which is why it’s so important to understand the ins and outs of it. If an employer is found in violation, employees are entitled to two times the wages they weren’t paid, for every paycheck from the previous three years. Additionally, they can pursue a private right of action on their own behalf, or on behalf of any employees that are similarly situated.
This amendment isn’t something that employers should take lightly, and ensure compliance is crucial. Make sure your executives and HR departments fully understand the rules of the new law and be sure to consult with an attorney or recruiting firm if there is any uncertainty about current hiring or employment practices.