The Oregon Pay Equity Act Applies to You

Oregon's New Equal Pay Act Is In Full Effect

By Kristen A. Campbell

Oregon’s significant revision to the Pay Equity Law went into effect on Jan. 1 and applies to all employers.  There are already federal and state laws that try to shrink the pay gap among genders. The new law expands upon existing Oregon law, which already prohibits sex-based pay discrimination, to encompass 10 protected classes:

  • Race

  • Color

  • Religion

  • Sex

  • Sexual orientation

  • National origin

  • Marital status

  • Veteran status

  • Disability

  • Age

While existing Oregon law prohibits paying women less than men for “work of comparable character,” the new law defines the standard as work that requires “substantially similar knowledge, skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions in the performance of work, regardless of job description or job title.”  Also, the new law applies to and factors all types of compensation including salaries, bonuses, benefits and equity-based compensation.  The law requires employers to compare all jobs against five specific characteristics: Knowledge, Skill, Effort, Responsibility, and Working Conditions.

If there are differences in the total compensation of employees in jobs of comparable character, the organization should assess the eight exceptions related to comparable pay.  While market and union-contract exemptions are no longer applicable, relevant exceptions include the following job-related factors:

  • A seniority system.  

  • A merit system.

  • A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, including piece-rate work.

  • Workplace locations.

  • Travel, if travel is necessary and regular for the employee.

  • Education.

  • Training

  • Experience.

If these exceptions do not provide justification for a pay discrepancy, the organization will need to make corrections. Corrections may not include the reduction of total compensation for any employee. Rather, all comparable employees will need to be brought up to the highest level of total compensation currently received. Now that we have passed the date of implementation any corrections will also include back pay for the lost wages since Jan. 1, 2019.

The Equal Pay Act also bars employers from asking how much a job applicant is currently paid. But they can ask what salary the applicant is looking for.  Penalties for violating the act can include liability for unpaid wages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.  Employers can avoid some damages if they can prove they completed an equal pay analysis within three years and eliminated wage variances for the protected group.

All Oregon employers should ensure that their programs, even if they comply with Federal law and regulations, comply with the more onerous Oregon rules. BOLI has published a final rule to implement the Act. Employers in Oregon should review their application forms and pay practices with the BOLI guidance in mind. Employers also should consult legal counsel to determine their specific organizational needs, as well as to determine a proactive, pay analysis.