Washington was one the first states in the nation to address the wage gap by passing the Equal Pay Act in 1943. In 2018, the state made history again by adding additional provisions aimed at closing the gap between what women and men are paid with the passage of HB 1506, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island). It was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 21 (pictured).
“With this bill, Washington is not only updating our 75-year-old equal pay law, but once again leading the country with equal pay policy,” Senn said. “Protecting women from bias in career advancement opportunities is a new step to help battle equal pay disparities.”
Today, a white woman working full time in our state makes 76.5 cents to the dollar that white men earn. Women of color fare worse: African American, 61.1 cents; Native American, 59.8; and Latinas, 46.3.
HB 1506 (see House Vote #21 and Senate Vote #19) allows employees to discuss earnings with co-workers and ask for equal pay, without fear of backlash or retaliation. It offers remedies for employees who are paid less for similar work on the basis of gender. It also ensures employees receive access to equivalent career advancement opportunities, regardless of gender. This will help put women and men on equal footing for promotions and upward mobility.
During the legislative process, an effort was made to add preemption language that would prohibit local governments from adopting and enforcing their own anti-discrimination measures. Fortunately, the final bill signed by the governor does not include that language.
New protections against sexual harassment
The #MeToo movement has prompted an overdue reckoning against managers and co-workers who sexually harass and employers who conceal such actions. Three bills, all sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) passed in 2018 to address this issue:
● SB 5996 prohibits employers from requiring employees, as a condition of employment, to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prevents disclosure of sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace.
● Similarly, SB 6313 voids any employment agreement that requires employees to waive their right to file a discrimination or harassment complaint with the state or requires such claims to be resolved using a confidential dispute resolution process.
● SB 6417 directs the state Human Rights Commission to develop model policies and best practices for employers and employees to keep workplaces safe from sexual harassment.
All three bills passed unanimously and were signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.