Maryland’s Expanded Equal Pay Law Takes Effect October 1, 2016

Maryland joins California, New York and Massachusetts by passing legislation aimed at combating wage disparity based on gender. (For a discussion on California, New York and Massachusetts’s Equal Pay Laws, click on our previous posts.)

Expanding Equal Pay for Equal Work

The new law, which goes into effect October 1, 2016, amends Maryland’s existing Equal Pay for Equal Work Act by expanding the prohibition on wage discrimination based on “sex” to also include “gender identity.” The protection against pay discrimination for work performed in the same establishment and of comparable character or on the same operation encompasses more than just unequal payment of wages.  The new law also bars discrimination for “providing less favorable employment opportunities,” which includes: (1) assigning or directing an employee into a less favorable career track or position; (2) failing to provide information about promotions or advancement opportunities in the full range of career tracks offered by the employer; or (3) limiting or depriving an employee of employment opportunities that would otherwise be available but for the employee’s sex or gender identity.

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Massachusetts Joins California and New York with Aggressive Equal Pay Law

On August 1, Massachusetts added significant teeth to the state’s current equal pay law. The new law, “An Act to Establish Pay Equity,” not only targets compensation decisions, it also affects hiring practices.   As of July 1, 2018, when the new law takes effect, employers cannot ask an applicant to provide his or her prior salary history until after the candidate has successfully negotiated a job offer and compensation package.  This measure is intended to stop the perpetuation of gender pay disparities from one employer to the next.  In addition, employers cannot use an employee’s prior salary history as a legitimate basis to pay a man more than a woman for comparable work.

The definition of comparable work is broad: “work that is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions: provided, however, that a job title or job description alone shall not determine comparability.”

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The DOL Announces Final Rule for the Obama Administration’s 2014 Pay Transparency Executive Order

By Dennis Mulgrew and Laurie Holmes

As we’ve previously covered here, on April 8, 2014 President Obama signed Executive Order 13665 (“Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information), at an event commemorating National Equal Pay Day, an annual public awareness event that aims to draw attention to the gender wage gap. On September 10, 2015, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) announced the Final Rule implementing the Order, which will take effect on January 11, 2016.

In its press release announcing the Final Rule, the DOL highlighted its intent to specifically address the gender pay gap, stating that “a culture of secrecy keeps women from knowing that they are underpaid, and makes it difficult to enforce equal pay laws. Prohibiting pay secrecy policies and promoting pay transparency helps address the persistent pay gap for women . . .”

The Final Rule seeks to promote pay transparency by, among other things:

  1. Revising the Equal Opportunity Clause included in covered federal contracts to include a provision prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants for discussing or disclosing their or their co-workers’ compensation;
  2. Requiring covered contractors to notify employees and applicants of these nondiscrimination protections in existing policies;
  3. Enabling employees and job applicants who believe they have been discriminated against for discussing or inquiring about pay to file discrimination complaints with the OFCCP.

The Final Rule outlines two defenses that a contractor may assert where a violation of the nondiscrimination requirement is alleged. The first is a “general defense” that the contractor “disciplined the employee for violation of a consistently and uniformly applied company policy . . . [which] does not prohibit, or tend to prohibit, employees or applicants from discussing or disclosing their compensation or the compensation of other employees or applicants.” The second is the “essential job functions” defense, which essentially permits a contractor to take action against an employee (such as a Human Resources Director) whose job duties and functions necessarily entail access to compensation information, and who discloses such information other than in response to a formal complaint, charge, investigation, or proceeding.

The Obama administration has in the past few years issued multiple orders or memoranda to accelerate change in employment-related areas it believes are within the authority of the Executive Branch, without the need for legislation. As described in more detail here, there is an often lengthy rule-making process required for these mandates to become effective law, but the DOL is close to (or has) announced Final Rules on many of the administration’s proposals. Accordingly, employers should be aware that many of the prospective regulatory changes discussed in the past few years are, in the near future, set to become reality.