Associated Press
By Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would ensure men and women earn equal pay for comparable work.

The legislation would prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender when it comes to wages and other compensation. The bill defines comparable work as jobs requiring similar skills, effort and level of responsibility.

The bill would allow variations in pay if the difference is based on a true merit system that measures earnings based on production or sales, on geographic location or education, or on training or experience related to the job.

Employers also would no longer be able to ban employees from discussing or disclosing information about their wages or other employees’ wages.

Companies that violate the proposed law could be fined up to $1,000, and employees who believe they’re discriminated against could go to court to recover unpaid wages.

Supporters point to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which they say show a woman working full time in Massachusetts earns 82 cents for every dollar a man earns.

‘‘Women working hard to support their families deserve fair pay, and this bill is an important step to close this unacceptable gap,’’ said state Sen. Karen Spilka, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and a sponsor of the bill.

Critics say lawmakers are well-meaning, but misguided.

Massachusetts High Technology Council spokesman Mark Gallagher had urged the Senate to reject the bill.

‘‘The legislation is a classic example of a well-intended proposal that is highly likely to result in unintended consequences,’’ Gallagher said in a written statement.

He said the bill would make it difficult and risky for employers to reward any worker — female or male — through commissions and other merit-based or performance-based compensation systems. He cited what he said was the high burden of proof employers would have to meet to justify higher pay for some workers.

The law could end up discouraging an employer from paying more to a woman employee who is performing at a higher level than a male counterpart, he added.

Top statewide Democratic officials, including Attorney General Maura Healey and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, support the bill.

Asked about the bill earlier this week, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said it’s already illegal under state law to discriminate on pay based on gender.

‘‘I certainly believe that anything we can do to make sure that Massachusetts continues to be a place where no matter who you are you believe you’re getting a fair shot with respect to employment is a good thing,’’ he said. ‘‘But the devil often times is in the details with this stuff.’’

The bill now heads to the House.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he’s always favored equal pay for equal work, but still needs to look at all the provisions of the bill.

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