Washington’s Equal Pay Opportunity Act

Earlier this month the Washington State Legislature passed the Equal Opportunity Pay Act (the “Act”), the first update to Washington’s Equal Pay law since 1943.  The Act, which is expected to be signed into law by Governor Inslee, amends RCW 49.12.175 to provide that any employer in Washington who discriminates in any way in providing compensation based on gender between similarly employed employees of the same employer is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Employees are “similarly employed” if the individuals work for the same employer, the performance of the job requires similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and the jobs are performed under similar working conditions.  Significantly, job titles alone are not determinative of whether employees are similarly employed, and an individual’s previous wage or salary history is not a defense.  The Act does permit a differential in compensation based on consideration of bona fide factors including regional differences in compensation levels, a seniority system, local minimum wage ordinances, or an employee’s education, training, or experience level.

In addition, the Act prohibits employers from, on the basis of gender, limiting or depriving an employee of career advancement opportunities that would otherwise be available to the employee.  It further states that an employer may not:

  • Require nondisclosure by an employee of his or her wages as a condition of employment;
  • Require an employee to sign a waiver that prevents the employee from disclosing the amount of the employee’s wages;
  • Discharge or in any other manner retaliate against an employee for inquiring about or discussing the employee’s wages or the wages of any other employee, or for asking the employer to provide a reason for the employee’s wages or lack of opportunity; or
  • Discharge, retaliate, or discriminate against an employee because the employee has filed a complaint for violation for the Act or testified in any proceeding relating to alleged violation of the Act.

An aggrieved employee may file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Industries for violation of the Act, or bring a civil action against the employer.  Employers may be subject to higher penalties if it is determined that they engaged in a pattern of violations or committed a violation through application of a formal or informal policy or practice.

A copy of the Act as passed may be found here.  We will update this post once the Governor signs the legislation, and provide additional information about any implementing rules adopted by the Department of Labor and Industries.

Update: Governor Inslee signed the Act. The law takes effect on June 7, 2018.

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