Equal pay has finally been getting the attention it deserves.
It now has its own national holiday. April 5 is Equal Pay Day. On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congresswomen reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help women sue their employer for not paying them a fair wage. Last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also recovered almost $20 million for victims of pay discrimination and is exploring ways to break down barriers like occupational segregation, which pushes individuals into lower-pay job categories and fields.
“There is no justification for paying anyone less simply because of their gender,” states Victoria A. Lipnic, the EEOC’s acting chair. “Demographics don’t dictate what a person can do – or earn – any more than discrimination should. No one should be boxed in.”
But perhaps the most significant event of all happened more than 1,000 miles away off this country’s mainland. The governor of Puerto Rico – Ricardo Rossello – passed the Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act (Act 16) on March 8. According to an article published by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the law was modeled after the federal Pay Equity Act but goes a bit further by limiting when employers can inquire about a job candidate’s salary history. The exception here is if the applicant volunteers this information or the salary was previously negotiated and documented.
Many are pointing to Act 16 as a sweeping transformation of Puerto Rico’s employment landscape. Consider the following changes:
- Employers can no longer prohibit salary discussions among employees or job applicants, except if those conversations occur with managers or human resource personnel.
- An anti-retaliation provision protects employees who disclose their own salary or discuss salaries with coworkers, object to any conduct prohibited by law, present a claim or complaint or participate in an investigation under Act 16.
- Victims of pay discrimination will receive back pay and an equal amount as a penalty. However, these penalties won’t go into effective until March 8, 2018, to enable employers to take any mitigating measures. In some cases, double compensatory damages may also be awarded. However, the penalty may be waived if the employer demonstrates that in the year prior to the claim, it voluntarily conducted a self-evaluation of its compensation practices and made reasonable efforts to eliminate pay disparities based on sex.
Meanwhile, The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (WPR) released surprising news about equal pay earlier this month.
Its statistical analysis of federal data reveals that equal pay would slash the poverty rate by almost half for children with a working mother. Nearly 60 percent of women would earn more if working women were paid the same as comparable men. The poverty rate for all working women would then drop from eight percent to 3.8 percent and the very high poverty rate for working single mothers would plunge from 28.9 percent to 14.5 percent. Approximately 2.5 million children with a working mother would be lifted out of poverty because of these increased earnings.
Despite these findings, more work needs to be done to advance the equal pay agenda. Not everyone supports it. Some believe it’s bad for families and society, that paying women equally would somehow ruin the makeup of a traditional family.
Somehow the estimated 12 million single parent families last year – 80 percent were headed by single mothers – would disagree. At the very least, they need to pay rent, feed and clothe their children, and pay for their health care, just as single fathers do. Not to mention that they’re performing the exact same work as men. So why should gender matter?