On April 12, 2019, Governor Mill signed into law “An Act Regarding Pay Quality,” amending the Maine Human Rights Act and Equal Pay Law.1 The changes to the law will take effect September 17, 2019. Maine is the eighth state to prohibit employers from seeking information about the salary histories of prospective employees. When crafting salary- history ban laws, state lawmakers have generally relied on the popular notion that basing compensation decisions on applicants’ salary histories perpetuates wage inequality.
Though Maine’s first equal pay laws date back to 1965, its legislature believed that changes to the law were necessary due to ongoing wage inequality among the state’s employees. To further equality efforts, the law was amended with two significant additions. The first addition aims to discourage employers from asking prospective employees or their former employers about their salary history by explicitly stating that such inquiry will be considered evidence of unlawful employment discrimination. There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, employers may seek the information if all terms of compensation have been negotiated completely and provided to the prospective employee. Employers may also confirm information that is voluntarily provided by their applicants, so long as that information was provided without any prompting by the employer.
Prior to the changes, Maine’s employers were already prohibited from preventing employees from sharing their own wages. The state’s Equal Pay Law now requires employers to allow employees to discuss or disclose another employee’s salary, so long as they are doing so to promote equal pay rights. This rule is designed to help employees become aware of existing wage discrepancies that may be discriminatory in nature.
Though the changes to the law were short in text, they will likely have a broad impact on Maine employers. The statutory fines for violations only range from $100 – $500, but more substantial are the potential Department of Labor actions and private litigation that may rise under the law. Therefore, companies should act quickly and work with their legal counsel to review and update their policies and procedures as necessary to come into compliance by the September deadline.
1 2019 Me. Legis. Serv. Ch. 35 (S.P. 90) (L.D. 278), amending 26 M.R.S.A. § 626-A.
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