Last week Oregon took an important step towards closing the wage gap for the women in its state. With the strong advocacy of Family Forward Oregon, the legislature passed HB 2007, a bill that prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who inquire about, discuss, or disclose their pay. Once the Governor signs the bill into law, Oregon will become the 11th state to explicitly provide these protections to workers.
What does this anti-retaliation law have to do with the wage gap? The story of Lilly Ledbetter illustrates the problem of pay secrecy. She worked for Goodyear Tire plant for nearly 20 years and only discovered that she was being paid significantly less than lower-ranked male colleagues thanks to an anonymous note from someone in HR. She could not have discovered the discrepancy on her own if she had thought to check—her employer banned employees for discussing pay.
It has been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. If workers are able to ask about and discuss their pay without fear of retaliation, they are empowered to discover discrepancies and resolve them with the employer. In turn, employers will be incentivized to examine their pay policies, saving time and resources by acting proactively rather than reactively. These practices work to remedy pay discrimination one workplace at a time and will help to close the sex-based wage gap; after all, in the public sector where pay rates are more transparent and workers can discuss their pay, the sex-based wage gap is much smaller than it is for workers overall.
Despite the good sense that more transparent workplaces make, a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research discovered that 61 percent of all private sector workers report that discussing or inquiring about pay is either discouraged or directly prohibited. Too many employers remain under the false impression that talking about pay is bad for the workplace, even though studies have shown that when workers can talk about their pay and believe they are being paid fairly, it leads to increased worker satisfaction, morale, and productivity.
With HB 2007’s passage, Oregon has shown that it takes pay discrimination seriously and is committed to closing the wage gap for women in it state.