The idea of equal pay for equal work sounds simple enough, but the reality has always been something else. There have long been glaring wage gaps between workers of different genders and different races. Fortunately, two new laws may soon push the state toward greater equality.
The state’s lawmakers recently took aim at two different wage concerns. One law bans employers across the state from asking about potential employees’ salary histories. The second law bans employers from paying people different wages based on an expanded number of protected classes, and this second law has now gone into effect.
Why should New Yorkers care about the salary history ban?
New York City has banned employers from asking about candidates’ salary histories since 2017. This new law bans the question statewide.
Because women and minorities have long earned less than their white male counterparts, questions about salary histories tend to work against them. And even though the gender-based wage gap has closed in recent years, it still exists. The Pew Research Center reports that women still earn only 85% of what men make. The racial pay gap is even worse. In February, the Economic Policy Institute reported that the race-based wage gap has grown wider in recent years.
Banning the use of salary history questions during the hiring process is one way of closing the gap. It should encourage employers to offer employees payment based on their duties and experience, rather than their former salaries.
What’s notable about the expanded Pay Equity Law?
The salary history ban doesn’t take effect until January 6, 2020, but the expanded Pay Equity Law went into effect on October 8, 2019. As the National Law Review notes, the expansions were two-fold:
· Employers are now banned from paying workers differently because of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation or any other category protected by the New York State Human Rights Law.
· The law changes the idea of equal pay for “equal work” to equal pay for equal work or substantially similar work. It defines “substantially similar” work as work that shares a similar “composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.”
There are exceptions for seniority, merit and other factors. But the change means that employers can no longer simply label the same job with two separate titles and give them superficially altered job descriptions. In turn, they can’t offer employees different salaries simply by changing the job titles for positions that are effectively the same.
Two more steps along the journey
These changes won’t erase the wage gap anytime soon, but they represent some big steps in the right direction. Taken along with the state’s new laws against discrimination and harassment, they give workers more power than ever to confront workplace injustices.