As a gender pay equity bill is taken up in the Massachusetts House, it is time to consider a question: Should your salary be contingent on your own talents and work ethic — or on what the lazy employee in a roughly similar position makes?
Although House bill 1733 is couched in the language of pay equity and transparency, it raises this very question. The bill, a version of which was passed unanimously by the Massachusetts Senate, would set up guidelines for courts to adjudicate allegations of gender pay discrimination and make it illegal to punish employees who publicly share their salary information.
Pay discrimination has been illegal, as indeed it should be, in the state of Massachusetts since 1945, and in the United States gender pay discrimination has been banned for more than fifty years. But passage of this bill could lead to what, with noticeable understatement, Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), called “a misalignment between pay and service,” before the business group jumped aboard after some technical adjustments in the bill.
The bill states that an employer can discriminate on the basis of gender, which is fine, if somewhat redundant. But the bill then sets up criteria for determining if two employees are in similar enough jobs that their pay should be the same. The bill states “the comparability of two positions shall be solely based on whether the two positions entail comparable skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions between employees of the opposite gender.”
In other words, what a particular employee brings to the job is almost irrelevant. Employees become mere cogs in a system that encouraged employers to think of them as “Male, Age 40” or “Woman, Age 39” rather than as individuals who bring different aptitudes and levels of dedication to a job. Added to that, it is difficult to ascertain whether two jobs actually are that similar — though trial lawyers will be more than willing to split hairs on this matter.
The National Organization for Women, which supports the bill, kindly overlooked the role of those trial lawyers when it said, originally speaking in favor of the Senate version, that the bill’s “approach is business-friendly because it has little to no cost to implement.” I’ll bet there are some feminist lawyers already planning to add on to the house with proceeds from this “no-cost” bill! Business friendly like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” loved children.
There are many reasons for pay discrepancies — one employee may take on extra work, while another watches the clock all day. One of the business organizations that opposes the bill does so in part because it would “create a presumption that any pay differential between employees of different genders is the result of discriminatory action by an employer” said Mark Gallagher, executive vice president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council. An office in which the boss risks costly legal action for rewarding a particularly valuable employee is not going to have high morale. Gallagher said that such a policy would “damage the Commonwealth’s competitive environment.”
Another provision of the bill is that it would make it illegal for employers offering a job to ask the candidate to reveal her salary history before being hired. While we would all like a big salary bump with a new job, this will handicap employers in coming up with a reasonable salary offer. The rationale is that women make less than men and this would perpetuate the alleged inequity. If you factor in the choices women make (including hours worked weekly and nature of jobs chosen), women in the 27-33 age group of people who don’t have children earn 98 cents on the dollar to what a male counterpart in the same demographic makes. Nothing wrong with wanting your two cents, but it is unfair to deprive an employer of this tool in coming up with a job offer.
While a potential employer can’t know your salary history, you are perfectly free to bandy about this sensitive information once you land in your new job. Since employees already are protected if they share this highly personal information, this is mostly a rhetorical advantage for supporters. But it is very popular in some quarters. “With this new transparency,” White House insider Valerie Jarrett said when President Obama established a similar rule for federal workers, “we can have an honest conversation. So many times women have no idea that they’re being discriminated against. They have no idea what their counterparts are making.”
Unfortunately, when they find out, many of them aren’t going to say, “Hmmm. I’ve got to work harder to make as much as So and So.” Encouraged by the law, many are going see to any discrepancy as the product of prejudice. And it’s true, employers tend to be prejudiced — they are prejudiced in favor of people who show up on time, work hard, and are pleasant on the job.
The Boston Globe reports that “under the law, employers who conduct salary reviews would not have to fear lawsuits if gender disparities were found and they made moves to fix them.” This is more red tape, making it more expensive to hire (and pay!) employees — and who thinks an employer doesn’t already know why people are paid what they are? As a result of such reviews, however, the wise employer will refrain from giving merit pay, which could lead to litigation.
Cloaked in idealistic slogans, this bill is also part of the left’s ongoing war against work. It is one more move towards treating a job not as an exchange with an employer — I do this for you and you pay me that — but in treating businesses as quasi-public entities that provide work under the strict supervision of bureaucrats. It not only drastically alters our view of the virtue of work but will continue the economic stagnation of the last seven years.