Q&A with Daniel P. Johnson
Paycheck Fairness Act has implications for state employers
Q: What is the state of income equality in Oklahoma?
A: According to an April study by the National Partnership for Women & Families relying on U.S. Census Bureau data, a full-time working woman in Oklahoma earns 76 cents for every dollar paid to a man, which is just shy of the national average of 77 cents on the dollar. However, other studies conclude that the wage gap almost evaporates when one controls for occupation and experience. Regardless, broad-based concern about unequal pay between men and women performing the same work persists and has breathed new life into the Paycheck Fairness Act, a measure that was previously considered by Congress in 2010 and 2012.
Q: What are the potential implications of the Paycheck Fairness Act for employers?
A: The act is an amendment to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination between men and women who work in the same establishment, perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. Even in those circumstances, the act permits differences in pay made pursuant to a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production or a bona fide factor other than sex. Among the changes the act would make to the Equal Pay Act are provisions that would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who discuss their wages and an increase in the penalties for violations of the act. In addition, the act would provide employers, employees and courts guidance on the intended scope of the bona fide factor other than sex defense, which proponents of the act claim has been too readily available to employers in the past.
Q: How might employees be impacted?
A: The act’s changes would empower workers to openly discuss and question employers’ pay practices and would invoke the investigatory power of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to identify and dispose of wage disputes. While the act also contemplates the potential for increased damage awards for workers, ideally, the primary benefit of the act would be the further reduction, and ultimate elimination, of a gender-based income gap that has been shrinking for decades.
Q: When can we expect a vote on the act?
A: On April 9, a bill that would have opened the Paycheck Fairness Act for debate in the Senate failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster. However, because the act is part of the Democrats’ overall election year policy push focused on increasing job security for women, the debate over the act is not likely to recede prior to the November election.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER