HARTFORD, CT — Democratic lawmakers are struggling to understand why a bill that would prohibit businesses from asking prospective employees about their pay history wouldn’t receive Republican support if it’s called for a vote Wednesday in the House of Representatives.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, attempts to help women achieve greater pay equity in the workplace. It would also incidentally help men because it would eliminate the question about salary history from the hiring process for everyone.
In addition, it would prohibit an employer from using a seniority system to defend its pay differentials if the employer reduces an employee’s seniority for time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition or protected family and medical leave.
Slap said similar legislation received bipartisan support in Massachusetts and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie in August 2016.
He said he hopes that when the bill is called here in Hartford it receives strong bipartisan support.
However, in Connecticut the bill squeaked out of committee by one vote and is opposed by the state’s largest business lobby and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
Eric Gjede, counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said there are already a number of state and federal laws dealing with gender-based pay disparities and CBIA supports those.
“What this is is an intrusion into the workplace and the relationship between the employer and employee,” Gjede said. “It’s duplicative of current law and it really is setting up business for the increased risk of litigation and that’s what we’re worried about.”
As the first female head of the House Republican caucus, “there is no one who agrees more with equity pay than I do,” Klarides said. “But the question is always how do we get there.”
She said Slap’s legislation, which might be combined with another bill, would increase litigation against employers and creates an additional burden.
As for asking the question about a person’s wage history, “I think that it’s a tool in the toolbox for an employer,” Klarides said.
She said she absolutely believes women should be paid the same amount as men if they are in the same job with the same responsibilities. However, she said she doesn’t think the gender wage gap is as commonplace as is claimed by proponents of the legislation.
At the same time, there are certain parts of the legislation Klarides agrees with, including language that would allow someone who goes on maternity to maintain their seniority in a company.
But she’s largely opposed to the legislation as it’s currently written.
Slap said it’s likely his bill would be combined with a House caucus bill dealing with pay equity. Language for the final bill is still being discussed.
Slap said he’s had many conversations with Republican lawmakers who have indicated they will support the bill.
“I’m very hopeful there are going to be Republicans supporting the bill,” Slap said Tuesday.
He said research has shown that women often carry low salaries from one job to the next. He said this legislation attempts to get rid of that “salary anchor.” He said by breaking that cycle and having candidates be paid what they’re worth is going to be good for the economy and good for the business.
The bill failed to win any Republican votes in the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
Slap said the statistics show that when women make less, “it’s bad for the economy and poverty rate increases.” He added that businesses want an affordable, sustainable state budget and fewer regulations. He said he hasn’t heard business complain about Connecticut’s equal pay laws. He said the opposition from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association is simply wrong.
“Discrimination is inefficient,” Slap said. “Pay should be based on how hard you work and how productive you’re going to be.”
At a Legislative Office Building press conference, Slap stood at the podium next to his daughters Tuesday and said the issue of pay equity is personal.
The freshman lawmaker said he promised his daughters that if he got elected he would fight hard for equal pay so they would not go through their entire career being treated unfairly.
Tuesday was Equal Pay Day. It’s the symbolic day of the year where women’s earnings from the previous year catch up with those of men, according to Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund Executive Director Kate Farrar.
In Connecticut, women earn 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, Farrar said.
And this isn’t a one-time cost. This impacts a woman’s lifetime earnings.
“Women lose $418,000 over the course of their career to the gender wage gap,” Farrar said.