Massachusetts Takes Historic Step Toward Equal Pay

In a historic step toward equal pay, employers in Massachusetts can no longer ask potential employees about their salary history during a job interview. Massachusetts is the first state to enact such a law, which goes into effect July 1, 2018.

The new law, which Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed on Monday, also forbids employers from penalizing employees who openly discuss their salaries with one another. By punishing workers who talk about their wages, women are less likely to find out if they are in fact being underpaid.

In addition, employers must now pay men and women equally if they do “comparable work,” rather than doing the exact same jobs, which was the previous practice. The law defines this as “work that is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions; provided, however, that a job title or job description alone shall not determine comparability.”

Employees also will not lose seniority, which can affect salary, due to “time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition and protected paternal, family and medical leave,” the law states.

Employers who violate the new law will be required to pay employees any lost wages, as well as “an additional equal amount of liquidated damages.”

Asking about previous salaries on interviews is a common practice that puts women at a disadvantage because women statistically earn lower wages than men. In 2015, women earned 81.1 percent of men’s salaries in the U.S. In Massachusetts, the number is just slightly higher, with women earning 82 cents to the man’s dollar. Therefore, if an employer is basing a new salary on salary history, women are already not starting on a level playing field before the interview is even over.

The pay gap is even larger for minority women. When compared to white, non-Hispanic men, Asian women are paid 80 cents, Black women earn 61 cents and Latinas earn 50 cents to the man’s dollar in Massachusetts.

The gender gap persists among all industries and education levels.

Per the law, job candidates are still entitled to disclose their past salary voluntarily, and in this case employers may ask potential employees to verify their wage history. But employers can only ask the potential candidate about past salaries after making a job offer that includes compensation.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton applauded the move on Twitter Tuesday.

Massachusetts has been ahead of other states and the federal government when it comes to equal pay for a long time. In 1945 it became the first state to require employees to pay men and women equally for doing the exact same work. Meanwhile, the federal government did not address this until almost two decades later in 1963.

According to supporters, the goal is that state action will, in turn, go national. “The hope is that the bipartisan law will help spark change at the federal level,” said Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at Demos, an organization that advocates for equal economic and democratic opportunities. “There’s more energy behind these issues.”

How Women Can Close Their Own Pay Gap

While other states and the federal government have not yet caught up to Massachusetts’ new law, and while work remains to be done, Cox Communications’ Chief Compliance Officer Robin H. Sangston shared with DiversityInc some tips on how women can work to close the pay gap they may be facing (Cox is No. 18 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list).

One piece of advice is to be confident, Sangston explained. “A man will promote himself as qualified for a promotion even if he only meets some of the criteria, while a woman won’t seek the promotion unless she feels confident that she meets all of the criteria,” she said. “Whether it is because women undervalue themselves or because women are more inclined to want to be perceived as likable, they tend to negotiate weakly, or not at all, on behalf of themselves.”

To read the rest of Sangston’s tips, and for more information on the pay gap, as well as a variety of other career advice, be sure to subscribe to DiversityInc Best Practices.

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