- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - State Attorney General Maura Healey said Tuesday that her office will allow new parents to take up to six weeks of paid parental leave, including parents who adopt or participate in foster care.

She also said she is reviewing the salaries of all 525 staffers in the attorney general’s office for any disparities in pay.

Healey - a Democrat who assumed the top law enforcement post earlier this year - said the moves are part of a larger discussion the state needs to have about pay inequality in Massachusetts.

“It’s important to me that the attorney general’s office be a model employer,” she said during an address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “How can I ask businesses to do something that we’re not prepared to do ourselves?”

Healey said the problem of unequal pay isn’t going to be solved by some employers making sure the salaries of their workers are in line. She said the state needs a comprehensive approach to guarantee greater transparency when it comes to salaries and wages in both the public and private sectors.

Using only a job applicant’s previous salary to set his or her future pay rate can perpetuate inequality, according to Healey, who said if employees and job applicants have more information about levels of pay in their workplace, they will be better able to negotiate their own salaries.

She said under current law, it is too difficult to prove a claim even when clear disparities exist.

She said the state needs an updated law to streamline rules that will make more sense to employers and will give people who discover they have been the victims of pay discrimination the time they need to bring a legal claim. She pointed to draft legislation being pushed by the Women’s Bar Association and the Equal Pay Coalition.

“We need to break the cycle of unequal pay,” she said.

In Massachusetts, Healey said, women still earn only 80 percent of what men earn for doing the same job, and the gap is wider for mothers and women of color.

She said it is not just an issue for women but for families. She said in 40 percent of families with children, women are the primary or sole breadwinner. When women’s pay falls behind, she said, families fall behind.

Healey said she also is instituting new training for all her employees on unconscious bias.

She said she wants to make sure the office eliminates potential for prejudice and stereotyping in interactions with colleagues, clients and the public.

Her decision to offer paid parental leave comes on the heels of a vote by the Boston City Council last month to give municipal employees six weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh supports the measure.

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