Paycheck Fairness: Coming to a Workplace Near You?

Amie Newman

The Paycheck Fairness Act is set to be voted on in November. If it passes, the journey towards fair pay for women in the United States will get oh-so-much shorter.

It looks like the Paycheck Fairness Act may finally receive its day.

The U.S. Senate agreed to file a cloture petition before closing up shop for election season, to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act in November when they reconvene. It’s a big step forward for the bill which may (hopefully) result in a huge leap forward for women in the workplace.

According to Michelle Chen writing on “Working In These Times,” while Washington has “studiously avoided pro-labor legislation” all year, this may be one exception.

The act plays a critical “next step” role in the journey towards fair pay for women by strengthening parts of the Equal Pay Act, and acting as a companion to the Lilly Ledbetter Act passed in 2009.

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While the Equal Pay Act, passed 47 years ago, provided a foundation for leveling the labor playing field between men and women in the workplace, the facts reveal there is still inequity. Women continue to make approximately 80 cents for every one dollar a man makes, in this country. Yet women are increasingly co-breadwinners and sole breadwinners for their families. While the Equal Pay Act does address fair pay issues there are loopholes in the law which have allowed businesses to come up with less than stellar (or appropriate) reasons for pay disparities between their male and female employees who do the same work. The Paycheck Fairness Act allows for businesses to maintain a pay disparity for business reasons only.

As well, workers in the United States have not been expressly permitted to discuss wages at work without fear of potential repercussions from employers. The Paycheck Fairness Act remedies this by stating that employees may be allowed to discuss each other’s wages, without recrimination. How else might someone know about potential wage discrimination? It’s why Lilly Ledbetter never knew of the discrimination of which she was a victim until someone alerted her via an anonymous note. The Ledbetter Act, though, does not address this issue – it extends the period of time in which someone has to file a pay discrimination claim.

The Act would also provide for a number of other issues including negotiation skills training for women and girls, implementing a more efficient tracking system for wage discrimination across the country and helping businesses maintain best practices.

And, as Chen notes, we may need this now more than ever:

The recession has further strained the wage gap: millions of families headed by single moms struggle with massive job losses, cuts to social programs, and, for those lucky enough to still have work, lower pay. Even in two-parent homes, unemployment frequently leaves women in the role of sole breadwinner. Gender discrimination trickles into the public benefits system as well, as marginal women workers often have less access than men to unemployment insurance and in their later years, retirement income.

Though the bill is set for a vote when the Senate reconvenes, the National Women’s Law Center says Senators still need to hear from bill supporters.

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