Twenty years ago, legislation called the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in an effort to shrink the gender pay gap. The law was intended to modify the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Equal Pay Act, which President John F. Kennedy signed into law in 1963, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against women because of their gender and to pay women less than men for the same work.
The Paycheck Fairness Act proposed more comprehensive protections that would amp up the fight for equal pay. Moreover, the new protections included in the bill would apply to everyone — not just women.
The bill would make it illegal for employers to ask interviewees about their salary history (this has recently become illegal in some cities, including NYC and Philadelphia, as well as the state of Massachusetts, but it’s not illegal on a federal level).
It would also give employees legal protections to openly discuss their compensation without worrying about being punished by their employers. In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the language of the Equal Pay Act to make it more difficult for employers to unfairly pay women, and it would make it easier for the Department of Labor to uncover instances of pay discrimination, among other protections.
The legislation has made it to Congress 12 times since it was first proposed in 1997. As Refinery 29 reports, in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017, the bill was introduced either in its original form or with minor modifications. This past year, the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced on April 4, Equal Pay Day, by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) — yet House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders have refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.
So while we may have made much progress since the Equal Pay Act became law in 1963, when women earned only 59 cents for every dollar men were paid (women now make about 80 cents for each dollar men earn) — we still have a long way to go, and it’s disheartening to realize that proposed efforts are consistently being thwarted.
If you’d like to get involved and you missed Equal Pay Day in April, start by getting educated about the wage gap, reach out to your elected officials, and find out whether you’re being compensated fairly. Fairygodboss’ salary database and these salary calculators are a good place to start.
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