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Legislature passes landmark gender pay equity legislation

By Tammie Hetrick, Chief Operating Officer

After more than three years of work, the Legislature passed 2SHB 1506 on a strong, bi-partisan vote from both the House and Senate. The final legislation is much improved from bills introduced in previous legislative sessions. The Washington Retail Association appreciates the opportunity to work with the prime sponsor, Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), and others, to develop a bill that provides for gender pay equity and accommodates most needs for business.

The issue is complex, it incorporates both wage and discrimination law, and earlier versions would have inadvertently impacted employers’ ability to offer training or professional development programs for their employees. Additionally, earlier versions could have required up to ten years of back wages and penalties if an employer was found guilty of gender discrimination.

The Washington Retail Association was successful in correcting these, and other major flaws with the bill in the final conference negotiations. Hence, 2SHB 1506 is vastly improved from earlier versions of the bill but it does not contain the important preemption feature that all segments of business were seeking. The Senate had earlier incorporated a prohibition on municipalities from enacting their own unique gender pay equity ordinances, but that feature of the bill was stripped out in the final conference negotiations.

Organized labor and other proponents of the bill opted to oppose preemption and made this element their number one priority.

Nonetheless, the new state law is strong and enforceable. Business can point to the new law if local governments initiate efforts to enact a local ordinance.

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