In New York, the average woman who works full time makes 86 percent of what a man makes. That’s a good deal better than the national average, which is 78 percent. But the state’s lawmakers want to do even better. On Monday, the New York State legislature passed a package of equal pay bills, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he will sign into law.
One piece prohibits employers from telling employees they can’t discuss pay at work. Across the country, about half of workers say they are banned or discouraged from talking about pay, even though they have a legal right to do so at work. That can make it very difficult for women to find out whether they are being paid less than men for the same work; Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, didn’t know she had been discriminated against until someone wrote her an anonymous note 19 years later. And in workplaces where wages are more transparent, the gender wage gap is much smaller.
New York lawmakers also beefed up current prohibitions on paying men and women differently. Previously, the law made exemptions allowing for gender-based pay differentials based on seniority, merit, productivity, and “any other factor other than sex.” The broadness of that latter provision has meant that it is often difficult to actually enforce. The new law will revise it to say “a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training or experience.” Companies will also have to prove that a gender difference is job-related and justifiable for the business.
If companies break these laws, the damages will now be tripled.
The changes New York lawmakers approved look very similar to changes that would be made nationally if Congress were to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. That bill would ban salary secrecy as well as strengthen the permissible reasons for having gender-based pay differentials and increase the penalties for companies that violate the laws. But while the Paycheck Fairness Act has been introduced multiple times, Republican lawmakers have stood in lockstep against it.
New York isn’t the only state trying to close its gender wage gap. Oregon has considered banning salary secrecy, as well as going even further than equal pay for equal work by requiring equal pay for similar work. That concept, called pay equity, used to be a priority for many states but has since fallen out of favor, although Minnesota still conducts assessments of its government workforce to ensure women in equivalent jobs are paid the same as men.
But progress overall on closing the gender wage gap has stalled for about a decade across the country.