Mississippi is the final state to enact an equal pay law. Through this enactment, every state now has a statute that prohibits employers from engaging in sex-based pay discrimination. The Mississippi Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which takes effect July 1, 2022 and applies to employers with five or more employees.
Under the Act, a covered employer may not pay any full-time employee a wage less than it pays an employee of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on a job requiring equal skill, education, effort and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions.
Exceptions apply to pay differentials based on:
- A seniority system;
- A merit system;
- A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
- Any other factor other than sex.
Interestingly, and unlike several other states, the law provides that an employee’s salary history, continuity of employment history and negotiation efforts will be considered factors “other than sex” which an employer may use to justify pay differentials.
The law contains a private right of action and protections against retaliation. Remedies may include back pay, attorney fees, interest and costs.
Next Steps for Employers
While use of prior salary history to determine pay may be considered a bona fide factor under Mississippi law, multistate employers must be mindful of any state and/or local laws that prohibit prior salary history to be used as a basis for setting current pay. As such, these employers may be better served by ensuring that reliance on prior pay not be a part of their compensation program, even in Mississippi.
It is recommended that employers conduct an internal audit of their pay practices using the assistance of a labor attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can offer valuable guidance on correcting pay disparities, the timing of making pay corrections, and how-to rollout the corrections. Additionally, for employers who discover pay disparities, there may also be the added benefit of communicating under attorney-client privilege where possible.