Massachusetts & “Mad Men” Workplace Policies


Low salaries have a funny habit; they seem to follow you from job to job. This is no accident. Because on every job application appears the question, “How much did you make in your last position?”

If you have a valuable and rare skill set, sometimes you get lucky. Employers want you so badly, they have to make you an offer you can’t refuse.

But for the majority of workers, wage gains don’t come easy.

Women, who on average earn $.74 cents for every $1.00 a man earns, are especially hard hit by this practice.

But recently in Massachusetts, new ground was broken for workers with the passage of a new pay equity measure. Taking effect, July 1, 2018, the legislation is designed to pay workers what they are worth, prohibiting potential employers for asking for salary history.

The new law also makes it illegal to pay men and women differently for the same or “comparable” work or to prohibit workers from discussing salaries with one another.

CA and NY have some pay equity measures on the books, but MA goes the furthest of any state in protecting workers from pay discrimination.

Observers note this new law will not only help with gender pay discrimination, but should help close other pay gaps like those between people of color and white workers.

Efforts to pass comprehensive, national pay equity measures have stalled, so passage of MA’s bill is especially meaningful. Pay equity continues to be a polarizing issue, with parties split, largely on ideological lines.

Democrats support extending the Equal Pay Act of 1963 with their bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, whose major provisions would:

  • Protect employees against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues
  • Require employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons
  • Facilitate employees participation in class-action lawsuits that challenge systematic pay discrimination

Republicans have blocked passage of the bill three times, claiming it would limit job growth. Instead they have proposed what many consider a watered down version of PFA, called the Workforce Advancement Act, introduced in April 2015.

The White House has made Equal Pay a priority of its administration. In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which made it easier to file unfair pay complaints. He also created a multi-agency task force (including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management) to study the scope of the gender pay gap and recommend strategies for ending discriminatory pay practices.

There is still a long way to go. But progress is being made. As the father of two daughters, President Obama knows what is at stake. No woman who earns less than a man can truly be his equal. So I was glad when he mentioned pay equity in his State of the Union speech:

“It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”

Amen to that.