The Sony email hack of 2014 revealed many things about the company. Embarrassing emails aside, many highlighted the way the company treats certain people. For example, there were several emails that discussed how much actress Jennifer Lawrence was paid for her work on the movie American Hustle. After some back and forth, it was finally decided that she could be paid as much as her co-star Amy Adams, but not, it seems, as much as their male co-stars.
This sort of pay gap is not new for Hollywood, and especially isn’t new for working women in America. Since women began to enter the workforce, they have been making less than their male coworkers, even in positions of equal work. In 1945, Massachusetts became the first state to put a law on the books stating that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. Unfortunately, this law was not always upheld, or was very easily skirted. However, this may all change soon.
On August 1, 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an update to the Massachusetts 1945 equal pay bill. This bill, S. 2119, An Act to Establish Pay Equality, ensures equal payment to men and women who are employed in positions of comparable work. The language makes it clear that comparable work “shall solely mean work that is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.” While this definition is not new (similar language is used in the federal law The Equal Pay Act of 1963), there is the added protection to employees wherein employers who are found to be in violation of this law will have to pay back owed wages to the employee.
The bill, which passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House, will also make Massachusetts the first state to make it illegal for employers to ask any potential employee about their salary history. This is especially important for women and minorities because, as we have mentioned, women and minorities are often paid less than their white, male counterparts. Because of this, they start out in the workforce at a lower salary than they probably should be making. When employers request a salary history, they can then point to this as a reason for lower payment. And the cycle continues. Taking this aspect out of the application process helps people who might otherwise not have had opportunities for equal pay.
Employees will also now be protected from any retribution if they discuss their wages with co-workers. There are many instances where employees who discussed their pay with coworkers had their hours cut or were subtly threatened with termination if they did. Some are discouraged during their interviews not to discuss the amount offered. Soon, however, employers will be in violation of the law if they specify at any time during the hiring process or during employment that their employees are not permitted to discuss their salary with coworkers. This allows transparency in the workplace and keeps employers honest about how and why they are paying their employees the salaries they receive.
While Jennifer Lawrence may not need to make up their missing wages, the fact that her hard work wasn’t considered comparable to that of her male coworkers sheds light on the larger issue of how working women in this country are viewed. When you take into account that women of color make even less, the issue is compounded. Massachusetts is taking a step in the right direction by updating a law that had good intentions, but could be improved. It says that those employed in the state matter and that their work is important and valued and that they should be compensated accordingly for it. Like the previous law, time will tell if this actually makes a difference, but hopefully with the measures that have been put into place, it will.
The Act to Establish Pay Equality will go into effect January 2018.