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State senate unanimously passes pay equity bill

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill intended to shrink the gender wage gap. The bill prohibits employers from asking a job candidate’s salary history and establishes a definition for “comparable work,”to ensure that similar jobs have more equitable pay.

“Massachusetts was the first state to pass a pay equity law over 70 years ago, yet women in the Commonwealth still make only 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man,” said state Senator Karen Spilka, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and a sponsor of the legislation.

Because women’s wages are historically lower than men’s, disclosing them could put women at a disadvantage, which is why the bill prohibits discussion of a candidate’s salary history.

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The pay equity bill also allows employees to discuss salaries openly without fear of termination. And it encourages companies to review their payrolls to see how the wages of male and female employees match up.

Senator Dan Wolf spoke on the floor about doing just that at his own company, the airline Cape Air, and said that it sparked conversations about jobs with different descriptions that could be considered comparable work.

“Even embodied in an enlightened workplace what will be found is that there is not gender equity,” he said.

The bill has been hotly contested in the business community, with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Business Leadership coming out in favor and the Massachusetts High Tech Council and Associated Industries of Massachusetts opposing it.

The bill will now be sent to the House, which has its own version of the legislation.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.