The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) will go into effect on July 1, 2018, almost two years to the day when the bipartisan pay equity bill was passed. The bill is meant to ensure equal pay for comparable work for all Massachusetts workers and equal opportunities to earn competitive salaries in the workplace.

While July 2018 may seem far into the future, there are steps Massachusetts companies should start planning for now.

First, understand MEPA’s salary history ban. If your job applications include a box with any language referencing a request for salary history, it must be eliminated by July 2018. Human Resource departments should be proactive now in revamping those applications, along with eliminating any questions about salary history during the hiring process.

Second, now is the time to conduct a pay equity audit. This may provide your company with valuable protection in the event that a pay differential exists within your organization and a pay discrimination claim is filed under state law. According to MEPA, an audit “may be of the employer’s own design, so long as it is reasonable in detail and scope in light of the size of the employer, or may be consistent with standard templates or forms issued by the attorney general.”

The new law actually encourages employers to conduct voluntary pay audits. Employers that have both completed a pay audit in good faith and can demonstrate that “reasonable progress” has been made towards eliminating wage differentials are provided a defense to any claims filed under MEPA and Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, the state’s anti-discrimination statute. The law also provides relief from liability for liquidated damages under MEPA.

The key advantage of conducting a pay equity audit now is that any discrepancies found in pay levels after analyzing the data can be addressed before the law goes into effect.

While guidance has yet to be issued by the attorney general’s office on the details of constitutes an acceptable pay audit, it’s never too early to start looking for qualified third-parties to assist with the effort. Now is the time to make sure your company’s pay practices will conform with the new law before encountering challenges after the law goes into effect in July 2018.