Massachusetts "just took a big step toward closing the wage gap" with "the strongest equal pay law in the country," as Mother Jones puts it. Gov. Charlie Baker signed a new law Monday ensuring employees can speak openly about their wages, helping to uncover pay gaps, and requiring equal pay for workers of "comparable character" or in "comparable operations," reports the New York Times. But the law, taking effect in July 2018, is also the first to bar employers from asking for an applicant's pay history before offering them a job, though applicants can still disclose that information if they choose. Employers will instead be required to present a pay figure upfront. Supporters say the move will benefit women, who are paid 82 cents for every dollar men earn for comparable work in the state, reports Boston.com.
As companies often set salaries based on an employee's previous wage, "these are things that don't just affect one job; it keeps women's wages down over their entire lifetime," says State Sen. Pat Jehlen, a Democrat who sponsored the bipartisan bill. But the law "will help every single individual who applies for a job, not just women," says the chairwoman of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. "This is a sea change, and we hope it will be used as a model in other states." In case of breaches, workers will be able to file a claim within three years. However, companies who work to fix pay gaps will benefit from "a three-year defense from liability," reports the National Law Review. Differences in pay will still be allowed based on seniority, geographic location, experience, education, training, or a commission-based system.