This column is sponsored by the Lower Columbia Human Resource Management Association. LCHRMA represents a gathering of Human Resources professionals. Join us each month for a luncheon and training that covers many aspects of employment law and human resources.
HR Questions and Answers:
“According to a new study, most men would like women to occasionally pick up the check. The study also found that most women would occasionally like to be paid the same as men for doing the same job.”
— Conan O’Brien
Q. What is the Oregon Equal Pay Act and how does it affect my company?
A. In 2017, the Oregon legislature passed the Equal Pay Act. Most requirements of the Act go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Although Oregon law already prohibits gender discrimination in the payment of wages (e.g. paying men more than women for comparable work), this new law prohibits discrimination in wages based on much more than just gender. Employers are now prohibited from discriminating against employees in the payment of wages based on any “protected class” including race, color, religion, sex, gender orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability, or age. The new law applies to the payment of all types of compensation including fringe benefits, bonuses, and commission for comparable work. This means that employers are now prohibited from paying employees of one religion more or less than employees of another religion for comparable work. Likewise, married employees may not be paid more or less than unmarried employees for comparable work.
In addition, the new law prohibits obtaining salary history from applicants and employees, employers should review and update their job applications and interview questions so they do not ask about salary history. Interviewers should be trained on this new requirement. Another step that every company should undertake is a pay-equity analysis. Are you paying all like positions a comparable wage? If there are any wage disparities, this must be corrected at once. If disparities exist, they should be corrected unless the employer can show that the variances are attributable to one or more of the “bona fide factors” listed in the law (such as seniority, merit, education, training, etc.). Finally, when correcting pay variances, employers should be aware that the law prohibits reducing any employee’s pay to comply with the law.
Finally, the law requires employers to post by Jan. 1, 2019, notices in every establishment where employees work. A free copy of the notice can be found at the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) website: tinyurl.com/OR-pay-poster.
Q. Are there any penalties for non-compliance?
A. Yes. Once the unlawful disparities are determined by a court, damages could include all unpaid wages under the Equal Pay Act in addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, injunctive relief, and any other equitable relief that a court finds appropriate. Employers may avoid having to pay compensatory and punitive damages if they can prove that: (1) the employer completed an equal pay analysis of their pay practices within three years before the date an employee files an equal pay complaint with BOLI or in court; and (2) they eliminated the wage variances for the complainant and made “reasonable and substantial progress” in eliminated the wage variances for all members of the protected class at issue.
Disclaimer: No response to the above queries is intended as legal advice. The answers are general answers based on general questions. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.