Massachusetts has become the first state to bar employers from asking about applicants’ salaries before offering them a job. The new law, Bill S.2119, will require the hiring employer to state a compensation figure upfront based on the applicant’s worth rather than what the applicant had made in a previous position. Whereas previously there was no requirement for equal pay unless the employees’ positions were considered comparable, this law will better define comparable work and put in place other protections aimed at ensuring all, particularly women, are paid equally. The employers are permitted to take certain attributes of a prospective employee into account when determining variation in pay, such as work experience, education, job training, or measurements of production. However, the law provides a clearer definition for what criteria employers can use to determine what is “comparable work” for equal pay purposes. The law, which will go into effect in 2018, also prohibits employers from stopping employees from discussing their salaries with each other, which is designed to increase salary transparency and help employees discover disparities.
This new piece of legislation is being pushed as a model for other states, particularly as the issue of gender wage gap has become a prominent political topic during this election year. Legislators hope that barring companies from asking prospective employees about their previous salary will ensure that the historically lower wages and salaries assigned to women and minorities do not follow them for their entire careers. Maryland and California have also recently passed similar legislation requiring equal pay for equal work.
As this issue gains more attention, other states are updating their equal pay statutes to more clearly define “comparable work” and include further protections for workers. Job titles will not be enough and companies will need to take a closer look at job duties to ensure workers with similar responsibilities are being paid equally.