People gathered on the steps of City Hall in a rally celebrating Equal Pay Day in New York on April 10. (Alba Vigaray/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock )
Contributor

Gender discrimination in the workplace has been an enormous issue for women and their employers around the world. As recently as last year, the Pew Research Center found that in the United States women earned about 82 percent of what men earned and would need to work an extra 47 days a year just to catch up.

One way to help combat this problem is to limit employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history. That way if a woman has been earning less than a male counterpart in a similar position, she’s not starting out behind when applying for a new job. Although some employers have balked at the idea, the strategy has gained in popularity, so much so that some states and cities — such as Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — have recently passed laws that forbid employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history.

Since January, California has banned employers from asking about a candidate’s pay history. But now some state legislators want to take things further.

A bill introduced in the California Senate would require all California companies with more than 100 employees to submit data — such as number of workers, including their race, sex and earnings — to the state each year. The bill, which has been amended to ensure that any data collected would not be publicly available, aims to help the state (and employers) identify potential gaps in gender pay, as well as to open up the opportunity for action against an employer under the state’s Equal Pay Act.

“This bill is designed to collect data so we can understand why that pay gap continues to be as great as it is,” state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Southern California Democrat who introduced the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Sacramento Bee. “Women are in the workforce primarily because they need to be, and it’s important that women are paid equally.”

Of course, business groups aren’t particularly thrilled about the measure. Some say it’s yet another regulatory job killer that can create unnecessary liabilities for employers and that the information won’t be as helpful as hoped. Others argue that the data doesn’t take into account important factors such as experience and time worked.

“You want wage discrepancy,” Laura Curtis, a policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce, told the committee. “You want individuals to be able to work longer at a job and earn more on their job because they put in the hours. And, unfortunately, that’s not what this will show.”

Businesses across the country should be paying close attention to California, because if the bill becomes law, it could encourage other states to follow. The amended bill passed the Judiciary Committee 5-1 this week and heads to another committee before it reaches the Senate floor.