In 2018 The Washington State Legislature passed an updated equal pay bill.

Washington first prohibited discrimination in pay based on gender in 1943, and Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963.  It’s about time we created change for women.

Women in the state who worked full-time year-round in 2016 made on average 76.5% of men’s earnings. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that at the current rate of progress, Washington’s gender wage gap will not close until 2070.

Since June 2018, all workers across Washington have the right to freely discuss wages with coworkers and to ask their employers to provide reasons for differences in pay or career opportunities—without fear of discipline or retaliation.  Employers must have bona fide job-related reasons for differences in pay and opportunity—and previous salary history may not be used to justify paying someone less than their colleagues for similar work.

Most states have passed stronger equal pay laws than Washington. At least 40 prohibit retaliation against employees for taking legal action, 35 make employers liable for damages, 18 protect employees’ rights to discuss wages, and 4 prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to provide salary history.

A complicated, enduring problem

At the middle of the earnings spectrum, White men in Washington made $62,037 in 2016, compared to $47,216 for White women. The typical Latina woman was paid less than half a White man’s earnings. Median earnings for Asian men and women are higher than for other groups, but the full wage range includes both very high wages in the tech sector and very low wages in personal services, accommodations and other low wage occupations.

Occupation explains only a portion of the wage gap. Women hold only 21% of computer jobs in the state (with median earnings of $100,702 for men and $79,212 for women) and 18% of architecture and engineering jobs (with median earnings of $91,231 for men and $73,013 for women). On the other hand, women hold 78% of personal care and service jobs (where the median annual wage is $17,082) and 72% of office and administrative support jobs (where the median wage is $31,884).

Even after accounting for occupation, education, experience, time out for family care, and other such factors, scholars have consistently found that the wage gap cannot be explained without the influence of discrimination and cultural assumptions. Often, women are paid less when they are hired and receive lower raises, even when they ask for them. Multiple studies have found that individual managers frequently make job assignments and promotion decisions that favor men due to cultural assumptions about gender and race.

Courts have set a high bar for bringing and winning discrimination cases. Private sector companies often prohibit employees from discussing pay, so people do not know if they are getting paid less.

This recent update in the law will help reduce the gender wage gap by prohibiting companies from imposing pay secrecy policies.