When Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act last month, he capped 39 years of efforts to address unintentional pay discrimination.
Members of the legislative session who started the work decades ago were present as Polis’ pen stroked across the page.
Although existing Colorado statutes prohibit intentional wage discrimination based on sex, the law focuses on unintentional discrimination, said State Rep. Janet Buckner, a sponsor of the bill.
The bill says men and women should be paid equally for equal work, Buckner said.
If the wage gap were eliminated in Colorado, a working woman would earn an average of $7,000 more per year – enough to cover about 1.9 years of tuition at a community college or six months of child care.
“For years, people have put up with inequities in pay systems, and bosses have done it because they could,” said state Rep. Barbara McLachlan.
The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2021, has requirements focusing on promotional postings, hiring practices and the process for filing complaints.
And to keep employers from underpaying employees who had a lower wage at a previous job, employers must allow fellow employees to discuss their wage rates and may not ask job candidates to state their previous compensation.
Rules about promotional postingsThe law requires employers to “make reasonable efforts to announce, post or make known all opportunities for promotion to all current employees on the same calendar day,” according to SB 19-085.
It also requires that job postings include details about compensation and benefits.
How are complaints filed?
The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act gives employees who present a case of wage discrimination multiple options for remedy. Under the new law, employees can file a complaint in a district court no later than two years after the employee becomes aware of the discrimination.
Each time an employee is affected by wage discrimination, a violation occurs. This means that each time someone is paid a discriminatory wage, a violation of the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act occurs.
The law does not prohibit the employee from filing a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which continues to be an option under previous Colorado statues.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is a bipartisan board that conducts hearings regarding illegal discriminatory practices, advises the governor on avoiding discriminatory legislation, reviews appeals of cases investigated by Colorado Civil Rights commissioners and adopts and amends rules and regulations to be followed in enforcement of Colorado’s statutes prohibiting discrimination.
If a court rules in favor of the plaintiff, the plaintiff can recover up to three years of liquidated back pay, meaning the back pay would be doubled. Damages awarded to the plaintiff are liquidated only in cases in which the employer cannot provide evidence the violation was in good faith. If an employer can provide evidence to the fact finder that it was acting in good faith, the employer can avoid paying back liquidated damages.
Employers may be cleared of liability if their wages are based on seniority, merit, earnings geographic location travel of education, training or experience.
How will local business be affected?
Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District in Durango, said the legislation is long overdue.
The BID, which works with more than 1,000 businesses, has not been contacted by any business regarding the new law, Walsworth said.
Noncompliant businesses might see a rise in labor costs, he said, but the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act is the right thing to do.
McLachlan said the new law will improve employer-employee relationships.
“I think that when people come in and get a job, they will stay with the job because they know they’re getting paid what they’re worth,” she said.