United States: Massachusetts Employers Receive Guidance On Equal Pay Law

Last Updated: March 6 2018
Article by Joseph W. Ambash, Cheryl Pinarchick and Monica Snyder

The Long-Anticipated Document Raises As Many Questions As It Answers

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey just issued much-anticipated and long-awaited guidance regarding the amended Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), which is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2018. As most know by now, the law will prohibit employers from paying employees of a different gender at different rates provided they are doing "comparable work," and will also bar inquiries about salary history. The guidance, issued on March 1, is intended to help employers to comply with the new law. Unfortunately, employers are likely to find that the guidance raises as many questions as it answers.

In particular, the guidance does not provide significant illumination on the critical issue of what constitutes "comparable work." And although the guidance provides useful input on how to conduct pay audits in order to take advantage of the law's affirmative defense, a principal takeaway for larger employers is that you may have to engage statisticians to conduct a complicated analysis of your workforce in order to avail your company of the defense. In short, with just four months to go before the law becomes effective, Massachusetts employers are now under pressure to conduct complicated audits if they want to avoid the prospect of costly pay equity litigation.

The Guidance Document, Summarized

The guidance is presented in the form of short responses to "Frequently Asked Questions." The questions asked and answered include:

  • Which employers are covered by MEPA?
  • What is the meaning of key terms, such as "comparable work"?
  • What constitutes "wages"?
  • What are lawful justifications for variations in pay?
  • Can salary history justify pay disparities?
  • How does the self-evaluation defense work?

Who Is Covered By The State Pay Equity Law

According to the guidance, all employers in Massachusetts (with the noted exception of the federal government) are covered by the law, irrespective of their size. Employers located outside of Massachusetts are also covered if the employer has employees "with a primary place of work in Massachusetts." Critically, any employee with a "primary place of work" in Massachusetts is covered by the law, even if the employee lives outside of Massachusetts.

The guidance defines "primary place of work" for "most" employees as the "location where they do most of their work for the employer." The guidance provides some examples to help employers try to determine an employee's "primary place of work," but the test is far from clear.

For example, the guidance states that employees telecommuting from outside the state to a Massachusetts worksite have a primary place of work in Massachusetts. This raises the question of what it means to "telecommute to" a Massachusetts worksite. What if, for example, an employee works out of their home in Ohio while reporting to a supervisor in New York, but connects to the employer's server in Massachusetts? Does the fact that the employee connects to the employer's server in Massachusetts mean Massachusetts is the primary place of work?

The guidance also provides, without further explanation, that "if an employee permanently relocates to Massachusetts, the employee's primary place of work will become Massachusetts on the first day of actual work in Massachusetts." What if, however, the employee performs most of his work in Rhode Island? As written, the guidance suggests that such an employee could still be covered by MEPA.

How The Term "Comparable Work" (Among Others) Is Defined

The state statute defines "comparable work" as work that requires substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions. The guidance interprets "substantially similar" to mean that all of those factors must be "alike to a great or significant extent, but are not necessarily identical or alike in all respects" in order for work to be comparable. Although the guidance provides some commentary on how to evaluate these factors, it raises as many questions as it answers.

The guidance further provides:

  • "Skill" includes factors such as experience, training, education, and ability to perform the job in question. It must be measured in terms of the performance requirements of a job, not in terms of the skills an employee happens to have. Skills not necessary to perform a particular job are not relevant in determining whether jobs are substantially similar.
  • "Effort" refers to the amount of physical or mental exertion needed to perform a job. Job factors which cause mental fatigue and stress, as well as those which alleviate fatigue, should be taken into account. "Effort" encompasses the requirements of a job as a whole.
  • "Responsibility" encompasses the degree of discretion or accountability involved in performing the essential functions of the job, as well as the duties regularly required to be performed for the job. It includes factors such as the amount of supervision the employee receives, whether the employee supervises others, and the degree to which the employee is involved in decision-making such as determining policies or procedures, purchases, investments ,or other such activities. Minor or occasional differences in responsibilities will not prevent certain jobs from being comparable.
  • "Working conditions" are the environmental and other similar circumstances customarily taken into consideration in setting salary or wages, including the physical surroundings and hazards encountered by employees performing the job and meaningful shift differentials.

The guidance also gives a number of examples of what would, and would not, be considered substantially similar skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. While this information and the examples are helpful, the test for identifying which employees are performing comparable work for purposes of evaluating gender disparities in compensation is still far from clear.

For example, there is no guidance on how an employer is supposed to measure the physical or mental exertion needed to perform a job, or what factors "which alleviate fatigue" should be taken into account. Further, there are also no standards for evaluating what levels or types of responsibility are "comparable."

The examples suggest that employees working in different departments or business units could be performing comparable work, even if they have different job titles. This issue goes to the very heart of the new law, and, unfortunately, leaves employers in a quandary about how to compare totally different jobs in light of the statute, which itself is vague. The upshot, unfortunately, is likely to be extensive and costly litigation about whether disparate jobs are really comparable.

What Is Included In The Definition Of "Wages"

The guidance defines "wages" broadly to include all forms of remuneration, including commissions, bonuses, profit sharing, paid time off, expense accounts, car and gas allowances, retirement plans, insurance, and other benefits. The guidance also provides that employers may not pay employees of one gender a different salary or hourly rate than employees of another gender doing comparable work, even if the employer makes up the difference with larger bonuses or other benefits.

What Can Serve As Lawful Justifications For Variations In Pay

The guidance makes clear that the only lawful justifications for pay disparities between employees of different genders who perform comparable work are the following:

  • a system that rewards seniority with the employer (provided, however, that time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition and protected parental, family, or medical leave cannot reduce seniority);
  • a merit system;
  • a system which measures earnings by quality and quantity of production, sales, or revenue;
  • the geographic location in which a job is performed;
  • education, training, or experience to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the particular job in question; or
  • travel, if the travel is a regular and necessary condition of the particular job.

Noticeably absent from this list is the catch-all "any reason other than gender" defense that exists under the federal Equal Pay Act and most other state equal pay laws. As a result, permissible variations in pay are much more limited in Massachusetts than in most of the rest of the country.

For example, under MEPA, the fact that one employee is a member of a union whose remuneration is subject to a collective bargaining agreement is not a lawful justification for differences in compensation or benefits between that employee and a non-union member of a different gender who performs comparable work. Under the federal Equal Pay Act, such differences have generally been found be lawful because the disparity is based on a reason other than gender. Because there are many unionized employers in Massachusetts, this omission from the statute will likely prove problematic.

Whether An Employer Can Use Salary History To Justify A Current Pay Disparity

The unequivocal answer to this question is "no," even if a prospective employee volunteers the information. Employers are not permitted to ask applicants for salary history information, nor can employers justify a pay disparities based upon salary history. The guidance makes clear, however, that employers can ask prospective employees about salary expectations, so long as such questions are not framed in a way that is intended to elicit information about salary or wage history.

The guidance also contains a warning for multistate employers. If an employer searches for or screens employees nationally without knowing where the prospective employee might ultimately be assigned, and the employee ultimately has a primary place of work in Massachusetts, the fact that the employer did not know where the employee would be located is not a defense to liability under the salary history provisions of MEPA. Salary history questions asked during that hiring process would be deemed in violation of Massachusetts state law.

An Explanation Of The Self-Evaluation Defense

MEPA provides a defense to wage discrimination claims for any employer that has conducted a "good faith, reasonable self-evaluation" of its pay practices within the previous three years and before an action is filed against it, and takes "meaningful steps" toward eliminating unlawful pay disparities identified through a timely self-evaluation. To be eligible for the defense, the statute says that the self-evaluation must be "reasonable in detail and scope," and the employer must show "reasonable progress" towards eliminating any unlawful gender-based wage differentials identified by the self-evaluation.

According to the guidance, whether an evaluation is "reasonable in detail and scope" depends on the "size and complexity of an employer's workforce" in view of several factors, including "whether the evaluation includes a reasonable number of jobs and employees," and whether it is "reasonably sophisticated" in its analysis of potentially comparable jobs, employee compensation, and the application of the six lawful justifications for pay disparities listed above. No further guidance is provided.

However, the guidance appears to give a cut-off for the type of analysis that must be conducted:

When the number of employees in a particular grouping of comparable jobs exceeds 30 or the structure is complex, a more detailed analysis likely is necessary. While not necessarily required by the statute, in many cases, conducting a statistical analysis will be the best way for employers to determine whether there are differences in pay between men and women in comparable jobs after controlling for other factors. In most cases, conducting such a statistical analysis will constitute good faith with respect to this step of any employer's self-evaluation of its pay practices.

What constitutes "reasonable progress toward eliminating pay disparities is similarly non-specific. The guidance explains that "reasonable progress" will depend on "how much time as passed, the nature and degree of the progress as compared to the scope of the disparities identified, and the size and resources of the employer." However, the guidance offers no standards by which consider such factors.

One potential positive note for employers is that the guidance states that "whether or not an employer is eligible for an affirmative defense does not necessarily turn on whether a court ultimately agrees with the employer's analysis of whether jobs are comparable or whether pay differentials are justified under the law, but rather turns on whether the self-evaluation was conducted in good faith and was reasonable in detail and scope." However, this statement does not echo any language in the statute. Therefore, it is by no means clear that the employer will actually be eligible to take advantage of the defense just because the analysis is conducted in good faith and reasonable in detail and scope.

What Immediate Next Steps Do Massachusetts Employers Need To Take?

The new law goes into effect in just a few short months. We have been advising employers for more than a year to conduct pay audits to protect their organizations against costly litigation. The takeaway from the Attorney General's guidance is that there are very few clear answers about the statute's meaning, and that employers should urgently conduct pay audits before the statute becomes effective.

The Attorney General's Office has published a checklist and a pay calculator intended to assist employers with conducting self-audits. However, employers should use caution before using these tools to conduct an audit without the guidance of an attorney.

Additionally, if the audit process and the results are not adequately protected by the attorney-client privilege, they could be discoverable and used against an employer in litigation under the federal Equal Pay Act or Title VII, which do not provide a similar defense. Employers should also identify and make any necessary changes in hiring documentation and practices to comply with the new law.

Join Cheryl Pinarchick and Monica Snyder on Friday, March 9, 2018, at 12:30 p.m. ET for a time-sensitive webinar designed to parse the much anticipated guidance regarding compliance with the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act ("MEPA"), released by Attorney General Maura Healey on March 1, 2018.

<< Click Here to Register >>

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Joseph W. Ambash
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLane Middleton, Professional Association
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLane Middleton, Professional Association
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions