Attorney General Bill Sorrell and a group of lawmakers announced an effort to beef up Vermont’s equal pay law today.
Twin bills have been introduced, one in the House and one in the Senate, to bolster the state’s current equal pay law, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex when determining wages.
“It really just underscores and gives teeth to what is our existing law,” Sorrell said.
Nationally, women make 78 percent of what men make; in Vermont, they make 84 percent of what men make.
“By making our laws clear around equal pay, by opening the door to flexible working arrangements and having consistent protection from retaliation, we can bridge the gap,” said Rep. Jill Krowinski, who introduced the bill along with roughly 30 other House members.
The bill improves protections for employees who request a flexible work schedule or who inquire about co-workers’ wages and potential pay disparities. It explicitly prohibits the employer from retaliating on these grounds.
The current law permits employers to differentiate wages on the basis of seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or “any factor other than sex.” The bill does away with what Sorrell called “an unreasonable and impermissible out for employers.” Instead of allowing for “any other factor,” it stipulates that differential pay be “based upon a bona fide factor other than sex, including education, training, or experience” and places the burden of proving that the “factor” is not based on sex and is “related to the employment and consistent with a business necessity” on the employer.
The bill also requires government agencies to only engage contractors who can provide written assurance that they are in compliance with the state’s equal pay law.
“We know that these are real concerns of women in Vermont because we hear directly from them every day,” said Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women.
Sen. Sally Fox, who co-introduced the bill in the Senate, said the proposed human services cuts add to the importance of rooting out inequality from the workplace.
“Considering changes to our Reach Up program, we really have to look at the reason that some women find themselves unable to make ends meet and pay for child care and have a job. It’s important for us to be able to say that in the workplace, women are being treated fairly,” Fox said.