On September 14, 2016, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – D.C. At Large) introduced the Pay Equity for All Act of 2016 (the “PEAA”) in the U.S. House of Representatives. In relevant part, the PEAA would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., to prohibit employers from asking prospective employees about their previous wages or salary histories, including benefits or other compensation. In addition to prohibiting these pre-hire inquiries, the PEAA prohibits employers from seeking out the information on their own. The PEAA prohibits employers from retaliating against any employee or applicant because the employee opposed any practice unlawful under the law or for testifying or participating in any investigation or proceeding relating to any act or practice made unlawful by the PEAA. Any “person” who violates the PEAA is subject to a civil penalty of $5,000 for the first “offense,” which increases by $1,000 for each subsequent offense, up to $10,000. In addition, any person violating the PEAA is liable to each employee or prospective employee who is subject to a violation for special damages not to exceed $10,000 plus attorneys’ fees, as well as potential injunctive relief.

In her introductory remarks, Representative Norton explained that the purpose of the PEAA was to “help eliminate the gender and racial pay gap” and to “ensure that applicants’ salaries are based on their skills and merit, not on a potentially problematic salary history.” The bill initially was co-sponsored by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), Jerrold Nadler (D – NY), and Jackie Speier (D – CA); subsequent co-sponsors include Representatives Gwen Moore (D – WI), John Conyers, Jr. (D – MI), Barbara Lee (D – CA), and Frederica S. Wilson (D – FL). The PEAA was immediately referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The PEAA follows the enactment of a similar piece of legislation by Massachusetts in August of this year. That new law, An Act to Establish Pay Equity, takes effect on July 1, 2018.

If passed, the PEAA could dramatically impact employers’ ability to gauge “market rate” pay for new employees. At the same time, setting pay prospectively based on employers’ objective beliefs about the positions in question, without the benefit of employees’ past pay histories, may reduce potential pay inequity in subsequent audits down the road.

Although the PEAA is in its early stages, and there is no guarantee that it will ultimately pass, employers should continue to monitor this important piece of legislation. The text of the current language of the bill can be accessed by the following link.