Today, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) signed into law what is arguably the nation’s strongest equal pay measure.

The new state law, which will take effect on July 1, 2018, requires employers to pay men and women the same for comparable work, defined as works that “requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.” The “comparable work” standard is meant to combat gender-based discrimination that leads to women being clustered into certain jobs (that generally pay less) and men into others, even though those jobs may be substantially equivalent.

The Massachusetts law is also the first in the country to ban employers from asking applicants about their salary histories—a practice that perpetuates the gender pay gap, as it reinforces past pay discrimination. Under the new law, employers can inquire about salary histories only after the employer makes a job offer that includes an offer of compensation.

In addition to protecting workers from the compounded effects of past discrimination, the law also bans the practice of pay secrecy. Employers will no longer be able to prevent their employees from talking about their pay with each other. Pay secrecy prevents workers from even knowing that they are victims of pay discrimination. Ending this practice will increase workers’ ability to advocate for fair pay.

Even as Massachusetts takes strong action to close the gender pay gap, action at the federal level has been stalled. Republicans in Congress have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act at least four times since 2012.

On average, women are paid 79 cents to a man’s dollar. In particular, women of color are paid even less. African-American women are paid only 60 cents for every dollar a white man makes; Native American women are paid 59 cents; and Latinas are paid 55 cents.

Media Resources: Associated Press 8/1/16; Think Progress 8/1/16; Massachusetts State Legislature; National Women’s Law Center 2015; Feminist Majority

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