To mark Unequal Pay Day — a day set aside to raise awareness about the pay gap between men’s and women’s salaries -- Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence) has announced that she has submitted two pieces of legislation that would implement further protections against unfair labor practices in the state.
The first bill (2015-S 0721) would not only provide protections against wage differentials based on sex, but would require employers to justify any differentials that do exist based on bona fide factors other than sex.
For instance, if a complaint is made, and an employer claims that a disparity in pay exists due to non-gender factors, such as seniority, experience, training, skill or ability, the employer would have to demonstrate that the factor does not perpetrate a sex-based differential in compensation and is job-related with respect to the position.
“Rhode Island was on the cutting edge of wage discrimination laws back in the 1950s,” said Senator Goldin, “but it is well beyond time to update our existing laws to reflect the workforce of today. The intent of these bills is to combat wage discrimination practices by strengthening and closing gaps in the existing laws. We would also be ensuring that employees have the freedom to pursue their rights without fear of retaliation from their employers. This law truly tackles the frustration that many women feel in their fight for equal pay.”
The law would also bring Rhode Island more in line with a U.S. court ruling that employers don’t have to be intentionally discriminatory in order to be in violation of the law. In that case, Wendie Dreves v. Hudson Group Retail, LLC, U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions III ruled that a Vermont employer had no right to pay a female worker less than a male counterpart simply because he had to move his family to take the job. The judge ruled the wage discrepancy was not a valid business-related expense to justify paying a female employee less.
In addition to justifying wage discrepancies, every employer would be required to post a notice that sets forth and explains the wage discrimination law. An employer found to be in violation of the law would be liable for the unpaid wages and liquidated damages which may be up to 300 percent of the total wages found to be due.
“Eliminating the gender wage gap requires a multi-pronged approach,” said Senator Goldin. “Rhode Island took a big step forward in 2013 by passing Temporary Caregiver Insurance, which helps both men and women take paid time off to take care of their loved ones.”
As a companion bill, Senator Goldin has also introduced legislation (2015-S 0722) that would provide protections against unfair employment practices to individuals based on their “familial status,” meaning a person who is providing care and support to a family member.
“It’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals because of race, religion, sex, age and other traits,” said Senator Goldin. “This list would add familial status to that list, which would include any person who has a family. Too often the wage gap is perpetrated by real time spent out of the workforce to care for others, or perceived stereotypes about caregiving. We want to make certain that we safeguard the rights of those providing support to their families.”
The first bill is cosponsored by President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13,Newport, Jamestown), Senators Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) and V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham). The second bill is cosponsored by President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Senators V. Susan Sosnowski, Erin P. Lynch and Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket,North Providence). Both bills have been referred to the Senate Labor Committee.