Washington Update: The Workplace Advancement Act
The Workplace Advancement Act (WAA) was introduced in the Senate by Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) (S. 345) and in the House of Representatives by Representative Stephen Knight (R-CA) (H.R. 1890). The WAA purports to address the problem of pay disparities between men and women, but The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) reports that the bill is completely inadequate to address this pervasive problem. NELA believes that if passed, the WAA could mislead workers into thinking they are protected with respect to inquiries and discussions with co-workers about salary and compensation, which are not actually protected by the bill. NELA joined a large coalition of women’s and civil rights advocates on a March 30 letter opposing the WAA.
The WAA would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for discussing their salaries with their co-workers, but only when the employees are discussing their salaries for the specific purpose of comparing them to determine whether they are receiving “equal pay for equal work.” Thus, employers could retaliate against employees for casual conversations around the water cooler about employee raises or wages—if the employee in the conversation failed to prove that the purpose of the discussion was specifically intended to identify pay discrimination. In fact, it is often exactly this type of casual conversation that leads to the accidental discovery of unlawful pay disparities. The WAA would put the burden on employees to use specific language when initiating discussions about pay, or risk employer retaliation. Further, the bill does not otherwise amend the Equal Pay Act and fails to make other critically needed improvements in pay discrimination protections.