The Massachusetts Attorney General has recently issued compliance guidance to help employers prepare for the effective date of the Act to Establish Pay Equity, which amends the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (“MEPA”), and which goes into effect on July 1, 2018. A copy of the 30-page guidance can be found by clicking here.
MEPA generally provides that “No employer shall discriminate in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or pay any person in its employ a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to its employees of a different gender for comparable work.” The law defines “comparable work” as work that requires substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions.
An employer that violates MEPA generally will be liable for twice the amount of the unpaid wages owed to the affected employee(s)—the differential between the employee’s wages and the wages paid to an employee of a different gender performing comparable work—plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. However, the law provides a complete defense for any employer that, within the previous three years and before an action is filed against it, has conducted a good faith, reasonable self-evaluation of its pay practices
In order to determine whether jobs are comparable for purposes of MEPA, jobs should be compared based on three factors: Skill, Effort and Responsibility. These factors are defined in detail in the compliance guidance from the Attorney General.
The guidance also includes a basic guideline for employers to follow in conducting a self-evaluation as well as a checklist to help employers review their policies and practices as they prepare for implementation of the amended MEPA. Employers who conduct good-faith self-evaluations may rely on the evaluations as an affirmative defense to claims under MEPA as well as some claims under M.G.L. c. 151.
The guidance also covers a variety of other important topics, including:
- an overview of the law;
- frequently asked questions;
- important definitions, such as covered employers, covered employees, comparable work, wages;
- an explanation of permissible variations in pay;
- the prohibition against employer restrictions about employee discussion of wages;
- the prohibition against seeking salary history from applicants in the hiring process;
- retaliation; and
- a detailed section covering the affirmative defense that the amended MEPA provides to employers who conduct self-evaluations of their pay equity practices and data.
With the MEPA enactment approaching, now is the time for employers to review their pay practices and make certain that they are complying with the law. Greene & Hafer is happy to provide assistance and guidance through this process. Contact us today to set up a consultation.