Massachusetts was the first US state to enact legislation regarding equal pay in 1945, but despite being on the forefront of the movement, there is still work to be done. Women continue to make less than men for performing the same job tasks. The wage gap is even more profound when comparing a white man’s wages to women of color.  

Some of the problems stem from confusion or misunderstandings about equal pay rights. The state and federal laws are complicated, and you may not know how or why to take action regarding unfair treatment. Plus, the law in Massachusetts was recently amended.  New changes expand protections regarding the gender pay gap, including making the law gender neutral, and dictating what can or cannot be asked at an interview. Understandably, you may not know of how these provisions apply to your situation.

Another area of uncertainty surrounds about how to ask for equal pay. You may know you have rights, but many people in your position feel intimidated about requesting to be compensated equally. Your employment is your livelihood, and it is entirely understandable that you do not want to put your job at risk. However, it is possible to approach your employer with a well-thought-out strategy on how to ask for equal pay.

You should discuss your circumstances with a knowledgeable Massachusetts equal pay and gender pay equality attorney for information on your options. An overview of the law and some tips on how to ask for equal pay may also be useful.

Statistics on Equal Pay in the US and Massachusetts

Data from many sources demonstrate the prevalence of equal pay and gender pay equality issues, despite Massachusetts’s historical contribution to the effort. Examples of some shocking statistics include:

  • The Massachusetts office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports the number of “charge receipts,” a term that essentially means the volume of complaint is receives regarding employment-related issues. In 2017, almost one-third of all charges were due to workplace discrimination based upon sex, at 31.1 percent. That statistic is an increase from 23.8 percent from fiscal year 2009.
  • In Massachusetts, women earn 82 cents on the dollar as compared to a man performing the same job-related tasks. This coincides with federal data, which reveals that women nationwide earned 81.9 cents in 2016.
  • Other sources of wage data report that, on average, women working full time earn just 84.3 percent of what men make.
  • Based upon today’s figures, the wage gap between men and women will continue to exist in Massachusetts until 2058.

In addition, the wage discrepancy between white men and women of color is more profound. Compared to white men working in the same or similar positions, African-American women earn 61 cents on the dollar, Asians make 80 cents, and Latinas make 50 cents per dollar. By industry, the smallest wage gap is in maid and housekeeping services, where women make 99 cents to a man’s dollar.

Federal and State Laws on Equal Pay

A recent amendment to the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) is proof that lawmakers recognize gender inequality issues in the workplace, and are moving to reduce – and eventually eliminate – the wage gap. It’s important to note that MEPA is now gender neutral, meaning that you don’t have to be female or female-identified to be fall under its protection.  The new law went into effect July 1, 2018, and it includes key provisions on equal pay and wage discrimination. MEPA cracks down on Massachusetts employers by defining “comparable work” and only allowing when based upon:

  • A documented system that rewards seniority in working for the employer, excluding time away for pregnancy, family-related, medical, and other forms of protected leave;
  • A merit-based, performance wage policy;
  • A system that measures wages by output, quantity, quality, sales, revenue, or other ascertainable factors;
  • The location where job-related tasks are performed;
  • Education, experience, and training that are required for or related to the job; or,
  • Travel, when it is necessary to perform job-related duties.

At the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1963 through the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This statute prohibits US employers from paying a lower wage to employees of one gender as compared to the other, when each worker performs the same job tasks. With broader protections and more clearly defined comparable work terms, you may have more success in fighting for your rights under MEPA than under federal law.

How to Ask for Equal Pay

With an overview of the legal framework in place, you are in a better position to request fairness from your employer. A well-formulated strategy is essential, so develop your plan around these recommendations.

  1.    Summon Confidence and Courage: Asking for equal pay can be a monumental move for your career and future. In the face of such an important step, it may seem overwhelming to approach your employer regarding the request. As you are creating a strategy for the conversation, remind yourself that you do have the right to equal pay. You are not making an unreasonable or unwarranted appeal; you are simply asking to be treated the same as other similarly situated employees. Under the circumstances, do not be afraid to ask. Summon the courage over the days before, so you will have the confidence to assert yourself.
  2.    Do Your Homework: With the above description of Massachusetts and federal equal pay laws, you can identify which factors to emphasize in your employment situation. You will recall that MEPA’s definition of comparable work is the key. If there is no documented system that rewards seniority, is based upon performance, or ties wages to specific employment measurements, figure out how you will point these issues out to your employer.

In addition, there are other crucial provisions in MEPA that may support your request for equal pay. When doing your homework, note the following:

  • Employers cannot prevent workers from discussing their wages, so you may want to ask a trusted source about salary issues.
  • MEPA does apply to the recruiting and hiring phases of employment. Therefore, a Massachusetts employer cannot require a job candidate to provide salary or wage history before offering you a job, and companies are prohibited from listing wage criteria as a condition of employment.
  • When you are requesting equal pay, you are exercising a legal right. An employer cannot terminate you, take other adverse action, or retaliate against employees who engage in protected activities.
  1.    Demonstrate Your Value: Be prepared to show how your contribution, merits, performance, and other job factors support the claim that you are providing comparable work. Present a roadmap that links your value to equal pay, so that your employer will come to the realization that not paying you equally has legal consequences.
  2.    Consider Your Approach: Timing is everything when asking for equal pay. You know your employment environment well enough to understand that there are good and bad times to approach your employer. Avoid periods that tend to be very busy, as you want full attention and no distractions.

In addition, do not come off as confrontational. You know your rights, but you should not use the situation to threaten legal action. Be flexible when evaluating your employer’s response to your request equal pay. At the same time, make sure you are firm in your wish to be compensated fairly.

  1.    Ask the Right Questions: You can use the conversation as an opportunity to find out more about your employer’s pay policies. Ask whether there are any protocols or documented systems that fit into the MEPA comparable work factors.

Other Tips on Getting the Equal Pay You Deserve

Additional recommendations that may be useful in your conversation about equal pay include:

  • Always bear in mind that your salary history cannot be used against you. Politely remind your employer if he or she raises the issue.
  • Recall that a potential employer cannot ask about your wage history during the recruiting or hiring process.
  • Remember: MEPA is gender neutral, so if you are a man, or you do not identify as female, and you are experiencing unequal pay for comparable work, you are entitled to protections under the law, too.
  • Take advantage of legal counsel if you need guidance or believe that you are the target of unfair compensation practices based upon your gender. The above overview of MEPA and federal laws is helpful, but only a knowledgeable lawyer can pinpoint the details of equal pay laws.

Contact a Knowledgeable Massachusetts Employment Attorney

About Equal Pay and Gender Pay Equality Issues

Even as MEPA and federal statutes attempt to close the gap of unequal pay between men and women, not all employers comply with their legal obligations. Plus, some of the most important provisions of MEPA that protect your rights are very recent. Massachusetts employers may not understand the new requirements, and some will not have taken the opportunity to adjust their wage policies.

For more information on equal pay and gender pay equality, please contact Rodman Employment Law to set up a free consultation at our Newtown or Boston, MA offices. Our attorneys have more than 70 years of combined experience fighting for the rights to employees in the workplace, and we can assist you in enforcing them. You can reach our office by calling 617.820.5250 or visit us online to learn more about our legal services.

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