Several bills that aim to address gender-based inequities in the workplace are making their way through the legislative process.

Advocates say two of those measures, HB 5210 and HB 5591, achieve greater gender pay equity.

However, they largely focus on imposing new requirements on businesses related to employee wages.

CBIA supports equal pay for equal work, and no one wants to be seen as being in favor of a wage gap between men and women doing equal work.

In fact, pay disparities based on gender are illegal under state and federal law.

That being said, there is a good chance some of these items will gain bipartisan support.

That could spell trouble for the business community—not because of pay inequity, but because of the cost and uncertainty in other workplace restrictions carried in these bills.

Salary Information Helps Match Candidates

HB 5210 prohibits an employer from asking a prospective employee about their salary history until a job offer, with salary, has been made.

The bill is designed to help eliminate historical pay inequities by not allowing them to carry from job to job, but there are practical reasons for asking this question that have nothing to do with perpetuating pay disparities.

Employers typically ask about salary history for a variety of reasons.

They usually have a wage pay range in mind for a position. When prospective employees answer this question, their current pay rate indicates how valuable they are to a prior employer.

If a candidate earned on the higher side of the wage spectrum, the potential employer will usually ask follow up questions to determine a job candidate's skills.

In a state where gender-based discrimination is illegal, these bills should be examined for their impact in complicating the meaning of workplace equality.
The only practice this perpetuates is that highly skilled employees who command higher wages for their performance continue to command those wages with other employers.

Small businesses that cannot afford compensation studies also frequently ask prospective employees about salary history as a means of determining the going market rate for a position.

For example, a small business in the market to hire a new assistant believes the appropriate starting salary is $40,000 a year. And if every applicant reports a current salary of $50,000, the small business will realize they are not offering the going rate and can adjust accordingly.

While the stated goals of HB 5210 are laudable, the bill’s real world applications are problematic for employers.

Honesty between an employee and employer should be seen as a positive factor in determining compatibility.

In this case, our members tell us the more information that a prospective employer and candidate can discuss, the better off they will be.

Comparing Apples and Oranges

HB 5591 requires individuals be paid equally for work performed under “comparable” conditions, rather than current law requiring equal pay for work performed under “similar” conditions.

It’s a subtle difference—so subtle the Office of Legislative Research could not determine any legal affect from the change.

CBIA isn’t so sure.

The difference, of course, is in the plain-language meaning between the words “similar” and “comparable.”

An apple is not similar to an orange, but it is comparable to an orange. In fact, aren’t many things comparable?

So what does this mean for the workplace?

Let's say one sales job has a 10% travel requirement while another has a 100% travel requirement.

Typically, a business could find it harder to fill the position with less favorable working conditions—the harder travel schedule—unless they can pay more to the worker. Clearly, these are not equal working conditions, but are they comparable?

If deemed that way, an employer may not be able to pay higher wages to employees willing to perform work under less favorable conditions. And, under HB 5591, that will be impossible if the two individuals in this scenario are of different genders.

By moving away from equal pay for equal or similar work, this bill could result in requiring individuals unwilling to work in less favorable conditions to be paid as much as those willing to work in those conditions.

People should earn equal pay for equal work.

These bills address serious workplace matters, but in a state where gender-based discrimination is illegal, they should be examined by the impact they may have in complicating, rather than clarifying, the meaning of workplace equality.


For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric Gjede (860.480.1784) | @egjede