The Federal Equal Pay Act (1963) mandates equal pay for equal work among men and women. The Equal Pay Act also covers benefits, bonuses and reimbursements for equal work. Since 1963 every state except for Mississippi has enacted its own version of an equal pay act. However, in response to persistent pay discrepancies, many states have revised or strengthened existing equal pay laws and taken additional steps to address inequitable compensation.
One approach is all about pay transparency. These measures commonly contain one of three provisions: (1) they prohibit employers from asking for salary history as a condition of being granted an interview or being hired, (2) they require employers to publish salary ranges, or (3) they allow for the disclosure of current salary and salary history among employees. Some state policies contain provisions for all three. Alabama, for example, passed legal protections for job applicants who choose not to disclose salary history as a condition of being granted an interview or being hired in 2019. Washington state adopted a similar policy that same year. Legislation passed in Hawaii in 2018 both prohibits employers from asking for salary history up front and prohibits employers from taking discriminatory actions against employees for discussing wages with other workers. Maryland’s most recent amendment to it’s Equal Pay Act took effect in October 2020. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the bill requires employers to provide applicants, upon request, with a wage salary range for a potential position. The bill also creates a ban on disclosure of pay history and protects employees who make inquiries about their own wages.
Recognizing and accounting for other, intersecting identities in equal pay laws is another approach taken by states to address continued pay inequities. In 2017, California amended its Equal Pay Act to prohibit pay discrimination against minorities. The amendment prevents employers from using prior pay history to justify a “sex-, race-, or ethnicity-based pay difference.” Illinois’ amendments to it’s Equal Pay Act took effect in September 2019. The amendments, like other states, prohibit inquiries into salary history and protect employee disclosure or inquiry into wages. The recently amended version of the Act also specifically states that, in addition to gender, no employer may pay wages to African-American employees at a rate less than what they pay an employee who is not African-American for the same work. Finally, New York’s Equal Pay Act requires that all employees in one or more protected classes be paid the same as an employee not in a protected class doing similar work. Protected classes are defined in statute to include age, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, and disability, among others.
Multiple states also passed laws which broaden the definition of “equal” or “comparable” work and implement consequences for violating these laws. Maine amended it’s Equal Pay Act in 2019. Similar to other state laws, the Act prohibits unequal pay for equal work. Specifically, the Act mandates equal pay for both sexes for “comparable work on jobs which have comparable requirements relating to skill, effort and responsibility.” Finally, the Maine law also protects employees who take action to assist in the enforcement of equal pay. A substantial law, the Nebraska Equal Pay Act also prohibits unequal pay for “comparable” work. The Act states that employers cannot lower one person’s salary in order to comply with the equal pay requirement. Similar to the Maine law, the Act prohibits the discipline or discharge of an employee who takes action to enforce the provisions of the Act. The Act also establishes the powers of the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission.
Finally, some states enacted laws which provide a more unique set of protections. Nevada N.R.S. § 333.182-188 (effective 6/30/2021) requires the state Purchasing Division to only engage with vendors who have submitted a bid or proposal for a state contract that pays their employees equal pay for equal work without regard to gender. The State’s Purchasing Division is required to establish a program to independently certify vendors that pay their employees equal pay for equal work. The amendment to the Wyoming Equal Pay Act places significant consequences on companies which do not adhere to equal pay laws by increasing penalties for violations of the Act. Employers who violate the Act face fines up to $500 and imprisonment up to six months. Finally, Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, SB 19-085, restructures the state’s existing complaint management system for equal pay claims. The state authorizes the director of labor and employment to create a complaint mediation process, including providing legal resources to claimants. The act prohibits wage differentials based on wage rate history or sex, but allows for disparities based on seniority and a number of other exceptions. The law enables the state to enforce employer pay transparency through levying fines against employers between $500 and $10,000 for violations.