(Last Updated On: June 08, 2023)
As a Massachusetts employment attorney and a vocal advocate for fair and equal pay, Elisa delivered an insightful and thought-provoking presentation on the nuances of the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) and its impact on eliminating gender-based wage disparities for comparable work. Below we’ve shared some of the highlights from Elisa’s presentation and we welcome you to watch the full panel discussion on MCLE New England’s website.
Understanding the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA):
The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act is designed to eliminate gender-based pay discrimination in the workplace. Unlike the federal Equal Pay Act, which focuses on “equal work” standards, MEPA adopts a broader and more inclusive “comparable work” standard. This expanded definition seeks to address the wage disparities that may arise due to factors beyond identical job titles or descriptions.
Defining “Comparable Work” under the MEPA:
MEPA defines “comparable work” as work that requires substantially similar skill, effort, responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions. It is important to note that job titles or descriptions alone do not determine comparability. Under the MEPA, each element of “comparable work” is defined as follows:
- Skill: Factors such as experience, training, education, and the ability to perform the job are considered when assessing skill. Skills that are not necessary to perform the job are not relevant to the “substantially similar” analysis.
- Effort: The amount of physical or mental exertion needed to perform a job is taken into account when evaluating effort.
- Responsibility: The degree of discretion or accountability in performing the essential functions of the job is a significant factor in determining comparability.
- Working Conditions: The environment, physical surroundings, and hazards associated with the job are considered to ensure the comparability of work.
Permissible Wage Variations:
While the MEPA aims to eliminate gender-based wage disparities, it recognizes specific circumstances where wage variations for comparable work are allowed. Employers can justify wage differences if they are based on:
- Seniority: A system that rewards seniority with the employer, with certain exceptions for leave.
- Merit: A merit-based system that recognizes and rewards individual performance and accomplishments.
- Quantity or Quality: A system that measures earnings based on quantity or quality of work, such as piecemeal work, sales, or revenue.
- Geographic Location: Wage variations can be influenced by the geographic location where the job is performed.
- Education, Training, or Experience: Factors such as education, training, or experience can be taken into account if they are reasonably related to the job.
- Travel: If regular and necessary travel is a condition of the job, it may contribute to wage variations.
Caution Against Relying on Job Titles or Descriptions
In her presentation, Elisa emphasized the importance for employers to be wary of relying solely on job titles or descriptions when determining comparable work. Instead, the focus should be on the actual skill, effort, responsibilities, and working conditions associated with the job. By doing so, employers can ensure a more accurate evaluation of pay equity.
Discussion with Hypotheticals and Q&A Session:
To close out the program, Elisa engaged the audience in a Q&A session and a discussion using hypothetical scenarios to illustrate the complexities and challenges faced in achieving pay equity. The inclusion of these examples helped participants gain a deeper understanding of the practical implications of the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act.