Oregon’s state government, ahead of the January 1, 2019, effective date of the state Equal Pay Act (EPA), is conducting an expansive, behind-the-scenes pay equity analysis of its departments to identify and remedy any potential pay disparities between male and female employees.
Under Oregon’s pay equity law, businesses are not required to conduct pay equity audits. However, the law contains a safe harbor provision providing that if an organization conducts a pay equity analysis and fixes any issues, the organization will be protected from compensatory and punitive damage liability in any related lawsuit for the next three years.
Oregon’s legislative branch had set an internal deadline of November 1 to complete its audits. However, with more than 350 employees, the entire legislative assembly, and six support agencies, the undertaking has proven to be quite a challenge. Employees received surveys and emails in late-September reminding them to verify their work experience and education information. Although a legislative work group representing both sides of the political aisle was formed to discuss exactly how the EPA will be implemented, many employees feel the audits and information gathering is premature, since the work group has yet to determine how all of the collected information will be used.
Oregon’s executive branch also sent out surveys to each of its 35,000 employees, requesting an up-to-date resume detailing experience, education, seniority, and any additional job-related training. Based on a preliminary analysis, the executive branch anticipates a $400-million budgetary impact as a “worst case scenario.” Employees slated to receive pay increases will receive back pay to June 1.
Employers must carefully scrutinize the interplay between federal and state laws in order to determine the correct course.