Can We Pass This Legislation Already?!?

Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, an occasion brought to us by the American Association of University Women marking the day when women would catch up to men's earnings from the year prior. It's a good opportunity to learn more about the complex factors underlying the gender wage gap. Let's also take a moment to consider the different equal pay legislation proposals in Congress.

Though the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made pay discrimination based on sex illegal, the law has proven not so easy to enforce. That's why Democratic legislators in every Congress since 1997 have made efforts to amend the Act, though the law has never made it through both houses, GovTrack reported. The most recent iteration is called the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the 1963 law in a number of ways, including:

  • Putting stricter requirements on reasons for paying employees differently (i.e. training, education, or experience);
  • Requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect information from employers about hiring, firing, promotions, and pay sorted by sex;
  • Giving employees the right to discuss salary with one another without fearing retaliation from employers.

The bill has little chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Congress of 2016, as the vast majority of Republican senators and representatives oppose it, GovTrack noted.


However, there are a couple outliers in the GOP who have advanced equal pay proposals of their own. Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska has proposed The Workplace Advancement Act, which narrowly hones in on the problem of employers not allowing employees to discuss compensation with one another. Fischer said in a statement on April 6 that her proposal has the support of nearly every Republican senator and five Democrats in the Senate.

Yet another proposal comes from New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who introduced the Gender Advancement Pay Act in the Senate in 2015. In many respects, Ayotte's proposal is similar to the Paycheck Fairness Act. It would protect employees' ability to discuss compensation freely, and it provides somewhat narrow criteria for pay discrepancies. But her proposal is a bit more lax on that latter issue, addressing her concern that the Paycheck Fairness Act may limit employers' ability to offer differences in salary based on merit. Her proposal also includes a provision allowing employers to prohibit discussion of salary in post-employment agreements, such as severance or settlement agreements.

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These three equal pay proposals aim to address pay disparity to different degrees. Though equal pay is by and large an issue Democrats discuss, two of the three proposals come from Republicans. But perhaps not surprisingly, those proposals are less extensive than the Democrat-backed Paycheck Fairness Act.