The General Assembly has approved legislation mandating equal pay for women and minorities by updating the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
The legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Daniel J. McKee, seeks to close gaps in Rhode Island’s existing wage discrimination laws.
The R.I. Department of Labor and Training can bring legal action against an employer for an inequity claim. Employers liable for a civil penalty would face fines of up to $5,000.
But the changes also include some protections for employers, including identifying when it is OK to pay an employee differently than someone else doing a similar job.
Employers will get a year-and-a-half to implement the policy changes.
The Rhode Island Equal Pay Law prohibits discrimination in wages on the basis of sex (RI Gen. Laws Sec. 28-6-17 et seq.). The Law also prohibits employers from paying female employees salary or wage rates less than the rates paid to male employees for equal work or work on the same operations. Any contract or agreement that establishes an unlawful variation in pay based on gender is void and unenforceable.
Retaliation prohibited. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee who has made a complaint, started a proceeding, testified or is about to testify, or otherwise exercised his or her rights under the Law (RI Gen. Laws Sec. 28-6-21).
As explained by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, the bill:
- Ensures that all employees are paid fairly and equally.
- Provides that, if an employer violates the law, employees may be eligible to collect back pay, unpaid wages and damages.
- Allows a job applicant, employee or former employee to seek relief from an employer’s unlawful pay practices at the Department of Labor and Training or in court.
- "Evens the playing field for job applicants and employees who are negotiating wages and salary with an employer ... [by requiring] more transparency from employers with regard to wage ranges. ... It [also] protects applicants and employees from potentially damaging wage history information.''
- Protects "good employers' who are proactive and conduct a wage audit in order to fix any unlawful pay practices.
The Equal Pay Law does not prohibit wage differentials that are based on:
• Seniority, experience, training, skill, or ability;
• Duties and services performed, either regularly or occasionally;
• Shift or time of day worked;
• Availability for other operations; or
• Any other reasonable differentiation except difference in sex.
The law applies to all employers in the state.
The Equal Pay Law is enforced by the Rhode Island director of labor or by private lawsuit in state court. Employers are liable for damages equal to twice the unpaid wage and criminal penalties in certain instances.
The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act prohibits employers from compensation discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age (40 years of age and older), or country of ancestral origin (RI Gen. Laws Sec. 28-5-1 et seq.).
The bill passed with broad, bipartisan support, 33-1, ahead of Equal Pay Day on March 24, the day in 2021 to which, on average, a woman must work to catch up to what men made in 2020.
Two federal statutes prohibit gender-based differences in pay: the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)
and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
Title VII and other federal laws also prohibit pay discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, and disability. Although the EPA and Title VII both prohibit pay discrimination based on gender, the laws differ in several aspects, including coverage, enforcement, and remedies.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on April 15 of this year that democrats say will help close the gap between what men and women are paid in the workplace. On June 8th, the U.S. senate, via the filibuster rules (requiring 60 votes), blocked the legislation at a vote of 49-50.
Obviously, this new legislation will have an impact on every employer in Rhode Island. Our professionals at ASN are eager to guide you through any changes that this bill may have on your business. Give us a call.