MD Expands Equal Pay Protections

Maryland has doubled down on its fight against the gender pay gap.

On May 19, Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act of 2016. The legislation strengthens Maryland’s existing equal pay laws and gives workers new protections starting October 1. A study conducted last year found that women in the state are paid 85 cents for every dollar paid to men.

Equal Pay for “Comparable” Work

The amendments mandate equal pay for individuals that “work in the same establishment and perform work of comparable character.” That means employees with similar duties, even those with different job titles or working in different departments, must be paid equitably. The law goes beyond just mandating equal pay, however—employees’ advancement opportunities must be comparable as well.

The law still permits variations in pay due to merit increases, education, or experience, among other factors. When pay discrimination claims are filed, the Maryland Employment Standards Service (ESS) is tasked with determining if a variance is truly due to one of these bonafide factors.

The new measures also broaden Maryland’s definition of gender discrimination. Following a similar determination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) earlier this month, the legislation establishes that an employee’s gender identity—irrespective of biological sex at birth—is what matters in an equal pay dispute.

Employee Wage Conversations

Significantly, the law also makes it illegal for employers to take adverse action against workers for discussing salary information with each other. California’s equal pay law, one of the country’s toughest, has a similar clause. The provision is an important one, as equal pay advocates have argued that banning salary conversations perpetuates pay discrepancies or masks their existence within an organization.

It should be noted that Maryland does permit employers to draft a policy establishing “reasonable workday limitations on the time, place, and manner” that these discussions can take place. Additionally, individuals with access to wage information as part of their day-to-day responsibilities -- like a human resources manager -- can still be barred from openly discussing employee compensation.

Maryland employers should make it a priority to audit employee compensation and record keeping practices related to pay changes. If pay discrepancies are found, it is important to note that the state’s equal pay law forbids employers from reducing an employee’s wages as a corrective measure. Additionally, employers should review their handbooks for language addressing employee wages conversations. If including such a policy is deemed a business necessity, consult with an employment attorney to ensure that it is compliant with state law.

Earlier this year, it was forecasted that 2016 would be a banner year for equal pay legislation. As a number of state legislatures debate measures similar to Maryland’s, the Namely HR News team will continue to monitor their progress.

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