Oregon employers looking to evaluate their pay equity picture in 2020 should be aware of a handful of updates to the state’s equal pay law that went into effect on January 1.
Oregon overhauled its law in 2017, expanding its coverage beyond sex-based pay differentials and modifying the standard for comparators whose pay must be equal absent a legitimate business justification. SB123 makes a handful of small but potentially significant changes:
- Existing law provided that pay differentials can be justified based on a seniority system, merit system, or system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production. The amendment adds a statutory definition of “system”: “a consistent and verifiable method in use at the time that a violation is alleged.” Correspondingly, the more onerous definition of “system” that had appeared in OAR 839-008-0015 was repealed.
- Existing law included a limited statutory safe harbor provision (ORS 652.235), which authorizes a motion to disallow compensatory and punitive damages in suits under the state’s equal pay law if an employer has completed a good faith “equal-pay analysis” within three years pre-suit. That provision was revised to require that a qualifying equal-pay analysis include “a review of practices designed to eliminate unlawful wage differentials.” The revision also requires an employer attempting to avail itself of the safe harbor to show that it has “made reasonable and substantial progress toward eliminating unlawful wage differentials for the employer’s employees.” The revision eliminates reference to the specific protected class asserted by a particular plaintiff and instead addresses unlawful wage differentials more generally.
- The new law provides that evidence that an employer increased an employee’s pay as a result of conducting an equal-pay analysis may not be considered as an admission of liability in an equal pay case under state law.
- The law authorizes pay differences where an employee performs modified work due to a compensable injury or medical condition, alleviating concerns employers might have had about pay disparities in such circumstances.
- Finally, the amendment expressly addresses unionized workforces, providing that pay differences can be justified if one or more of the enumerated statutory defenses is contained in a collective bargaining agreement. This amendment may represent an effort to address concerns previously expressed by Oregon employers who employ both non-unionized employees and members of unions that bargain for pay rates along with other conditions of work. But it is unclear what impact it will have given that the amended law continues to require that the pay differences be tied to one of the previously enumerated defenses.
We will continue to monitor developments and amendments in Oregon and report on them here.
As readers of this blog know, pay equity laws and regulations are expanding rapidly in the U.S. at both the federal and local level, as well as internationally. And while regulatory compliance is critical and remains an area to watch (and we’ll keep covering it for you here), employers can take a short breath of relief after a recent victory in one of the key proving grounds for equal pay claims—class and collective action litigation.
On March 29, 2019, in Ahad v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois decertified an equal pay collective action brought by a group of female physicians. Although the plaintiff alleged that she and other female physicians were paid less than male comparators for equal or similar work under the same compensation plan, Judge Sue E. Myerscough concluded that the opt-in members of the collective action had widely varying practices, duties, and compensation structures that would require many individualized inquiries, making the case inappropriate for treatment as a collective action.
As we reported last month, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) issued proposed regulations interpreting the provisions of the new Oregon Equal Pay Act of 2017, which will become effective January 1, 2019.
On November 19, 2018, after receiving a number of comments on proposed rules BOLI filed final rules with the Secretary of State. Stakeholders that provided input on the potential impact of the rules as originally proposed ranged from large law firms and industry groups to small business owners and farmers, as well as multiple higher education institutions (including Oregon State University, Portland State University, the University of Oregon, and the Oregon Community College Association). READ MORE
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has issued proposed regulations interpreting the provisions of the new Oregon Equal Pay Act of 2017, which will become effective January 1, 2019. Although the prohibition against “seek[ing]” salary history from applicants already is in effect, many of the law’s most significant provisions go into effect on January 1. READ MORE
A growing number of state and local governments have passed equal pay laws in recent years. These statutes and ordinances have varied in their specific content and have created a patchwork of legal requirements vexing employers who are attempting to comply. Two states have added wrinkles to this patchwork. While many of the obligations have favored employees, Massachusetts and Oregon have attempted to tip the scales to employers by creating “safe harbor” provisions aimed at providing some form of relief for employers who perform voluntary pay audits and correct any adverse findings through “safe harbor” provisions. These provisions, however, raise significant questions that employers must consider before concluding that they are fully protected. READ MORE