Bill would allow free-for-all discussion of pay in the workplace

Posted by Charles Middleton on 04/05/2018

Q: House Bill 1530 is being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature and would allow employees to ask each other about wages without fear of punishment. What are the details of HB 1530?

A: The underlying purpose of House Bill 1530 is to promote gender equality in the workplace as it relates to pay. The most controversial aspect of the bill is that it prohibits any employer in Oklahoma from discharging or discriminating against “an employee who inquires about or discusses his or her own pay or the pay of another employee.” Essentially, the bill will allow employees in Oklahoma not only to discuss their pay, but also the pay of their co-workers and openly ask management what their co-workers are being paid. The only limitation on this free-for-all discussion of pay in the workplace is that employees with access to the pay information of other employees as part of their job (e.g., human resources managers) aren't permitted to disclose pay information to employees that do not have similar access.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of employees being able to discuss pay?

A: The advantage to employees is that it will allow them to identify and discuss pay discrepancies that may be based on gender. Employees freely can question their employer if they believe a co-worker is being paid more than them based on discriminatory reasons and discuss the employer's response with their co-workers. It also will allow the Oklahoma Department of Labor more opportunities to identify and investigate employers accused of pay discrimination. The biggest disadvantage to employees is invasion of privacy. There are few things more private or confidential than an individual's pay. Most people don't share that information with anyone outside their immediate family. This bill will allow an employee's co-workers to discuss his or her pay without permission or repercussion. Employers aren't only concerned about invasion of privacy, but also the disruption that will be caused by unnecessary water cooler talk and office gossip, which inevitably will lead to a less productive workforce and frivolous claims of pay discrimination.

Q: What practical considerations should employers consider if the bill becomes law?

A: Employers should consider conducting pay audits to determine if there are any pay discrepancies between male and female employees that can't be explained based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, e.g., educational background, years of experience, location, etc. If a pay discrepancy cannot be explained, the employer can make the appropriate adjustments to the employee's pay. This pre-emptive review can help mitigate allegations or findings of pay discrimination. It also should be noted that unexplained pay discrepancies based on other protected classes (e.g., race, age, national origin, etc.) may violate federal law. Employers also should consider additional training for management and other supervisors on how to handle discussions or questions regarding pay. Some training already should be in place given the National Labor Relations Act protects some workplace pay discussions. Reinforcing this training would certainly be prudent to avoid a violation of the bill.

PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER

Published The Oklahoman, April 4, 2018