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Let’s talk about Pay!

Posted Friday, April 29, 2022 by Pivotal Law Group

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The Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act was enacted in an effort to reduce wage and opportunity gaps between workers, particularly for women. The law strives to further pay equity.

During the Interview:

For many people, the subject of pay during the interview process causes anxiety. In Washington, prospective employers are prohibited from asking a job applicant for their salary or wage history. Nor may employers ask a former employer for a job applicant’s pay history. The Washington Legislature found that such inquiries only perpetuate earning inequality. However, if a job applicant voluntarily discloses their pay history, the employer then has the right to confirm their pay amount1.

Differences in Pay:

There are valid and illegal reasons for differences in employee compensation. Valid reasons for pay differences include seniority, differences in education or training, work performance, regional differences in compensation, and earnings based on the quantity or quality of production. Illegal reasons for pay differences center around discrimination, most commonly gender discrimination. If employees are “similarly employed”—meaning they work for the same employer, their job performance requires a similar level of skill, effort, and responsibility performed under similar working conditions—they should be equally paid2. To pay one employee more than the other under these circumstances is suspicious. If there is a dispute around a pay differential, the burden is on the employer to provide valid reasons for the difference.

Discussing Pay:

Employers cannot prevent their employees from discussing, comparing, or talking about their pay in the workplace. Employers who fire or discipline any employees for discussing their pay are subject to lawsuits for retaliation. However, if a particular employee, such as an accountant or bookkeeper, has access to all employees pay records, they can be required to keep the information confidential3.

If an employer violates these laws, employees can file a complaint with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. Employees may also hire an attorney to pursue a claim against the employer. In a civil action—brought within three years of the violation—an employee may be eligible for actual damages, statutory damages equal to the actual damages or five thousand dollars, whichever is greater; interest of one percent per month on all compensation owed; and costs and attorneys’ fees. For more information, please reach out to Alyssa Nevala at Pivotal Law Group by calling (206) 340-2008 or emailing her at anevala@pivotallawgroup.com.

1See RCW 49.58.100. 2 See RCW 49.58.020(2). 3 See RCW 49.58.040(3).