Workers could investigate colleague’s salaries without being penalized
SAN JUAN – Can you imagine asking one of your colleagues how much they earn to know if you receive equal pay for equal work, and that this not to be a reason to be penalized by your employer?
That is one of the advantages that public and private workers will have if the Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act is approved, according to Labor Secretary Carlos Saavedra, who defended Senate Bill 9 in the first public hearing held by the Government Committee.
Saavedra noted that, for the first time on the island, it would be “illegal practice” for an employer to demand an employee to abstain from asking or discussing salary matters, even if with a fellow colleague. Employers wouldn’t be able to penalize a worker who shares their pay information, although the measure doesn’t force the employer or company human resources departments to provide details on this information.
“For the first time, there is a tool for employees that allow them to obtain information freely, without being subject to penalties, all the while protecting the confidentiality of whose information is requested,” said the Labor secretary, whose agency will be in charge of overseeing this legislation.
Although during the public hearing it was said there exist federal and state laws that promote equal pay, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, these haven’t been enough to eradicate disparity based on sex discrimination, several who testified said.
Thus, Saavedra endorses the bill’s approval, because it provides “more precise guidelines” regarding wage equality, although it doesn’t prevent salary differences in terms of seniority, efficiency, experience or education.
In addition, it establishes penalties against employers who don’t comply with the law, while encouraging them to take corrective action to equal salaries among employees.
Another advantage the Labor secretary emphasized is it would allow him to begin investigations, even if on his own accord, to determine if an employer is complying with the law and establish penalties if necessary. It would also allow him to conduct studies on wage inequality every three years.
In this regard, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez stressed that the measure is transcendental because it would apply not only to the public sector and the three branches of government, but also to the private sector, thus the proposed law “will fill a legal vacuum” locally.
Although in favor, the Justice official suggested including the Human Resources Administration & Transformation Office (OATRH by its Spanish initials) in the law’s application. The entity is in the process of developing worker compensation and classification plans in the government.
Likewise, Women’s Advocate Ileana Aymat Ríos favored the bill and requested to be included along with the Labor department as one of the agencies where people may take their pay claims. Currently, the Women’s Advocate’s Office is allowed to address gender discrimination cases.
For her part, OATRH Director-designate Nydza Irizarry backed the bill and assured she would prioritize merit and equality in developing classification and compensation plans.
On another hand, Management & Budget Office (OGP by its Spanish initials) Director José Marrero declared that, although the bill’s budgetary impact is “undetermined,” he believes the Labor Department can take over responsibilities “without major impact or difficulty,” and without affecting the current structure.
If additional funds to the current budget’s $127.8 million were required, of which $88 million correspond to state allocations, they would have to justify it in the next budget, which will be based on the zero-based budgeting method, Marrero said.