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Massachusetts passes its own equal pay law that broadens the definition of comparable work

You’ve probably heard that men are paid more than women are paid over their lifetimes. What does that mean? Are women paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs? Is it because more women work part time than men do? Or is it because women have more caregiving responsibilities? Why do women earn only 80% of what men earn in comparable fields?

Research has shown that even when women enter traditionally “male” fields, they make less. In fact, research looking at pay changes over decades has shown that when more women enter a traditionally male field, pay within that field begins to decline. Studies show that when more women began working in parks or running camps, for example, median hourly wages declined by 57 percentage points. Same goes for fields like design, housekeeping and biology. Conversely, when more men enter a traditionally female field, wages go up.

Under the old law, the definition of comparable work was narrow and boiled down to having to show that the employees in question had the same job title. The new law, effective in 2018, says that “comparable work is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.” Subjective performance ratings that decide wage increases will not qualify as a bona fide merit system. Employers will need a scoring system or a weighted measuring system that is documented and more objective.

The new law gives protection to employers who conduct pay equity studies and take reasonable steps to make sure they are treating employees fairly, regardless of gender.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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