Massachusetts Just Became The First US State To Sign This Type Of Equal Pay Bill Into Law

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Now this is what progress looks like! In case you missed it, Massachusetts just became the first US state to sign an equal pay law that includes specific types of measures created to protect employees from discrimination. It is the first time this type of bill has been introduced at a state level, but that’s not the only reason why this new law is turning heads.

The S 2119 legislation was signed by a Republican Governor, Charlie Baker. Yes, you read that right, a Republican. But it doesn’t end there. The bill was unanimously backed by the MA House (151-0) and the Senate (40-0). So why is this the “first of its kind”, you may be asking? Sure, we have other federal Equal Pay measures, which we’ll get to in a minute, but this one includes even more stipulations that will hopefully remove barriers from women being paid equally to men.

The salary history measure prohibits employers from asking a prospective or current employees’ about their previous salary, as this has become an easy way for discrimination to creep in, according to Ariane Hegewish, the employment and earnings program director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

In an statement to Vice.com, she stated that an employer cannot just look to the past pay history of a candidate when they are determining salaries.

“Focus on the job, focus on the performance. Don’t focus on where people come from because we know there’s discrimination in the labor market and that way it’s imported into the organization,” she said.

If the arguments about pay being determined by merit, then this kind of stipulation will give confidence to an employee who seeks to negotiate a salary based on their worth, not their past. This becomes more evident in the case of women and minorities, said Ariane.

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The other big change that this law will have, that the previous Massachusetts law does not, is a subtle change in language. The previous law stated “equal pay for equal work”, this new bill states “equal pay for comparable work”. This means a particular role does not have to be completely identical, but similar.

For employers, the bill encourages them to audit their own workforce to weed out or expose any potential unfairness in pay for comparable roles. If a company chooses to do this of their own accord, they have 3 years to fix the problem before they can be sued for any inequity. This is a big deal for employers and companies as one of the biggest grievances about equal pay laws is that it doesn’t protect them or seek to aid them as much as it does individuals.

“Companies should be proactively addressing equal pay issues and they shouldn’t be afraid to do it, if they are seriously concerned about addressing it,” said Ariane Hegewish to Vice about his aspect of the bill, which is set to go into effect December 2018.

The national conversation around equal pay, especially during the current presidential election where Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has certainly been the most vocal about wanting to tackle this, has not been in vain. With more focus on gender equality than every before, Ariane believes corporations and companies are starting to realize they can no longer ignore it, especially given that women make up half the workforce in the US today.

“Companies know we need to get good motivated women and if women feel they’re not valued as much as men, then it’s unlikely we’re going to recruit the best or get the best out of the best,” she said.

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Democratic MA senator Karen Spilka, told WBUR News it was an historic day when the House unanimously signed this law, before it even got to Governor Baker’s desk.

This will be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, (pay equity laws) in the nation. It has support now from the business community as well,” she said.

Her colleague Senator Patricia Jehlen, also a Democrat, praised the work of her fellow state legislature members.

This bill finally recognizes that pay inequity is a problem. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it removes many barriers which we know have kept women from achieving equity,” she said.

Senator Jehlen has previously filed a number of pay equity pieces of legislation over a number of sessions, so we can see why she has cause for celebration.

Now in terms of the other pay equity measures we can already see at a national level, in 1963 President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which states employers could no longer discriminate and pay someone less based on their gender. It was a start, but it certainly wasn’t comprehensive.

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When President Obama took office in 2009, the very first law he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which amended the statute of limitations for when an employee can file a suit against an employer who is paying a discriminatory wage. It was based on a Supreme Court Case involving Lilly Ledbetter who sued former employer Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for paying her less than male colleagues. But the court decided that the 180 day limitation began on the date that the employer made the initial discriminatory wage decision. This new law now states the limitation begins on the date of the most recent paycheck paid at the alleged discriminatory rate.

There is another piece of legislation that has yet to be signed on a national level. The Paycheck Fairness Act “punishes employers for retaliating against workers who share wage information, puts the justification burden on employers as to why someone is paid less and allows workers to sue for punitive damages of wage discrimination.” This has been voted down by Senate Republicans FOUR TIMES!

While there needs to be improvement at the federal level, there are a number of states which are pushing their own bills. In 2015 California governor Jerry Brown signed what was considered at the time to be the most aggressive equal pay laws in the nation, but now it seems Massachusetts has decided to join the party and start stepping things up. Earlier this year another Republican Governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, signed an equal pay measure that was pushed by his Democratic-majority legislature.

This is definitely an issue being lead by Democratic leaders and activists, but it seems with the right measures and stipulations that protect and benefit both the employer and employee, there is no reason we should not be seeing more movement on this issue. To find out whether your state has an equal pay law in place, click here.

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