Nationally, women are paid 79 cents for every dollar that men earn, according to the United States Census Bureau. A number of factors affect that statistic, including the career fields women choose, but economists consistently find evidence of pay disparities not offset by other variables.
The Massachusetts law, which will go into effect in July 2018, takes other steps as well to combat pay discrimination. Companies will not be allowed to prohibit workers from telling others how much they are paid, a move that proponents say can increase salary transparency and help employees discover disparities.
And the law will require equal pay not just for workers whose jobs are alike, but also for those whose work is of "comparable character" or who work in "comparable operations." Workers with more seniority will still be permitted to earn higher pay, but the law effectively broadens the definition of what is equal work.
Other states have also been stepping up their protections. In May, Maryland passed a law that requires equal pay for "comparable" work, and California last year enacted a law that is one of the nation's strictest, requiring employers to be able to prove that they pay workers of both genders equally for "substantially similar" jobs. It, too, had the backing of important local trade groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce.