Oregon law aims to end pay discrimination

Final component of 2017 Oregon Equal Pay Act goes into effect

Jan. 2, 2019 — On Jan. 1, 2019, the final component of the Oregon Equal Pay Law went into effect. This law intends to decrease pay inequality for protected classes and limit inquiries into employees’ past salaries. While parts of the law went into effect in 2017, Jan. 1 marks the date for employers to bring wages up to standards and opens the door for employees to file legal suits against employers who do not comply.

The first component of House Bill 2005, enacted by the 2017 Oregon Legislative Assembly and signed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on June 1, went into effect Oct. 6, 2017. This prohibited employers from seeking salary history of an applicant or employee before the employer makes an offer of employment that includes an amount of compensation.

“Oregon women earn just 80 cents to a man’s dollar, and even less for women of color,” said Brown in March 2017. “Under this bill, women, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and people of color will have new protections when bad employers pay them less than their colleagues. Let’s keep moving forward.”

Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) reports, “In 2014, the typical (median) earnings for an Oregon woman age 16 and older working full time was about $39,000. The typical Oregon man earned nearly $47,000 that year. That means for every dollar the typical Oregon man earned, the typical Oregon woman earned just $0.82.”

In further breaking down numbers, compared to men, Latina women often make 51 cents, Native American women make 62 cents, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women make 66 cents, African American women make 70 cents and Asian women make 75 cents.

OCCP also indicated that these numbers primarily focus on people who identify as women, as official labor market data sources do not count transgender or gender non-conforming people in their surveys.

According to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), the Oregon Equal Pay Law makes it “an unlawful employment practice under ORS chapter 659A (Oregon’s unlawful discrimination statute) for an employer to: In any manner discriminate between employees on the basis of an employee’s status as a member of a protected class in the payment of wages or other compensation for work of comparable character; pay wages or other compensation to any employee at a rate greater than that at which the employer pays wages or other compensation to employees of a protected class for work of comparable character; or screen job applicants based on current or past compensation.”

Under the law, “protected class” has been expanded to include “a group of persons distinguished by race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability or age.”

When Brown signed the bill, she wrote, “Signing the Pay Equity Bill today was a significant step toward a more equitable, prosperous Oregon. Many of us know what it feels like to be paid significantly less than our co-workers despite doing equal work. I applaud the legislature’s bipartisan efforts to ensure Oregonians have greater protections against pay discrimination.”

The governor has also talked in the past about how when she was a young attorney, she learned she was paid less than her male counterparts.

“Pay equity is what keeps women in relationships they don’t want to be in. It keeps women of color working two or three jobs. It stops women or people of color from getting ahead. It hurts these women, their families and our communities,” she said. “Very few businesses intentionally pay women less these days. Instead, the problem is more insidious and it’s harder to tackle. That’s why passing legislation that improves pay equity standards in our state is absolutely critical.”

Additional provisions of the law state that employers may not reduce the compensation of any employee in order to comply with the law and that amounts owed to an employee because of a failure of an employer to comply are considered “unpaid wages.”

While the initial law was passed in 2017, BOLI did not publish updated rules until November, which has prompted concern that many of Oregon’s approximately 130,000 employers, large and small, might not have the necessary tools to enact changes. BOLI lists actions employees and employers can take at www.oregon.gov/boli.

This April, Brown wrote, “I’m proud to have signed a bill into law last year that’s helping close the pay gap in Oregon, but there’s still much work to be done. … I know we can do better! I will continue working toward pay equity for all, and thank all the champions in Oregon who join me in this fight as we work to create a better and more equitable future.”

Additional legislative updates will be included in the January edition of Siuslaw News’ Business Quarterly.