On April 8, 2014, at an event commemorating National Equal Pay Day (an annual public awareness event that aims to draw attention to the gender wage gap), President Obama signed two executive orders designed to limit workplace discrimination. The first prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries with one another, while the second instructs the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including breaking down the data by gender and race.
The protections offered by the anti-retaliation Order overlap with many already existing under state and federal law. For example, the NLRA protects employees’ right to engage in “concerted activities” and thus already prohibits employer discipline against employees who discuss their wages. Further, some state laws, such as California Labor Code §232, already preclude an employer from disciplining an employee who discloses the amount of his or her wages. Nonetheless, the Order may add to these protections, such as by expanding them to management employees (who are not protected by the NLRA), and providing an alternative option for bringing retaliation claims (i.e., through the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs rather than the NLRB).
The effects of the Order requiring the collection of compensation data will be unclear until the regulations themselves are formulated. Based on the Order’s mandate to “avoid new record-keeping requirements and rely on existing reporting frameworks to collect the summary data” and to develop regulations that “minimize, to the extent possible, the burden on Federal contractors and subcontractors,” it is possible that the federal government will require that the data be submitted along with a federal contractors’ annual EEO-1 Report.
The President’s signing of these Orders appears to tie into the White House’s previously announced plans to accelerate change in areas it believes are within the authority of the Executive Branch, without the need for legislation. Indeed, the Orders’ provisions mirror parts of the Paycheck Fairness Act (“PFA”), a proposed piece of legislation that would add procedural protections to the EPA and the FLSA to address male–female income disparity. (The PFA came up for a vote in the U.S. Senate on April 9, 2014, where it was blocked by a Republican filibuster). Similarly, in February 2014, President Obama issued an Order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, at a time when Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) were urging a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it to inflation. Then, in March 2014, President Obama directed the Labor Department to revamp regulations governing which types of employees business may classify as overtime-exempt “executives” or “professionals.” With regard to the Order requiring the collection of compensation data, the OFCCP has been working internally on releasing a proposed compensation data collection tool for the past three years. See http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/Presentation/Compensation_Data_Collection_Tool.htm (publicizing the OFCCP’s August 10, 2011 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding a new compensation data collection tool).
The high profile nature of the Orders provides yet another impetus for employers to evaluate their existing policies, and plan for the future.