Massachusetts will put a new gender equal pay law into effect on July 1 for the first time since 1945.

Massachusetts will bring equal pay act into effect is working towards closing the current wage gap in the state. Women make 84.3 percent of what men make in the state and women of color make even less.

Michelle Roccia, a 30-year human resources veteran, and executive vice president of employee engagement at WinterWyman, a talent acquisition firm, has had extensive training on the new act.

“It is important for women that we close the salary gap,” Roccia said. “It’s still shocking that the gap is still there, as much as it is.” 

Massachusetts joins the ranks of Delaware, Oregon, California and others to prohibit employers from asking about a candidate’s wage history.  “You can’t ask a candidate what they are currently making,” Roccia said. “This is the most important part of the law.”

Employers also can’t prevent employees from talking about how much they make.

The new act also includes a language change that mandates that employees who are ‘comparable’ be paid equally. This may seem like what the old act intended to do but  the language change is crucial to differentiate from ‘equal’ work, which allows for less disparity over which specific positions require equal wages.

The act highlights six areas where a company would have to prove reasonable differences in position to offer a differing wage in one of six different categories including employment history, skills, special training, merit, travel, performance, and the location in which the job is performed.

Companies may want to perform a thorough audit of how they are paying their employees prior to July 1. When looking at wages, companies need to include signing bonuses and vacation.

The other major part of this act is the enforcement and penalties — employees who believe they are getting paid less for a position because of their gender will now have a significantly easier time reporting this difference. Employees are able to file a class action suit or a case with the Attorney General without notifying their company or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination first.

If a gender-based wage inequality is found, companies will owe double the difference that the male employee was paid, and any legal or attorney fees the employee paid. If the company can prove they are making strides toward wage equality, the penalty is lessened to pay the difference between wages. 

“It is stricter and it really does require companies to take a good hard look at how they are paying people,” Roccia said.