Suffolk County passes legislation to reduce gender pay inequality

By Akanshka Kar

On November 30th, Suffolk County county executive Steve Bellone signed legislation that will prohibit employers from asking a job applicant’s current and previous salary in efforts to reduce pay inequality for women and minorities in the workplace.

The Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings (RISE) Act is set to be in effect by June 30, 2019.

“As a woman who has irked for decades in corporate, nonprofit and government positions whose applications all included previous salary rise, I was honored to co-sponsor this measure,” Kara Hahn, Suffolk County Legislature (D-5), said.

Being the first bill of its kind to be introduced on Long Island, the aim is to prevent the pay gap that women and minorities face by ensuring that the salary offered by the employer is based on “responsibility” and “qualifications,” rather than prior wages earned,, Bellone said in a press conference.

The legislation passed with a unanimous 17-0 vote and was sponsored by many more legislators in Suffolk County.

Lawmakers in New York State have already established the New York State Fair Pay Act (A.4696, Titus) which prohibits the discriminatory practice for employers to pay employees a different wage on the basis of sex, race or national origin for the same job. The RISE Act takes it further and is applicable to private businesses as well.

“Governor Cuomo has tried to apply this salary question ban to state employers through executive order, but now you need a way to apply that to private employers as well,” Giovanna D’Orazio, partner at the D’Orazio Peterson law firm in Saratoga Springs, NY, said. “There is legislation pending at the state level to change the law so it applies to private employers, as well and counties do that from county-county basis.”

Neighbouring counties like Westchester County, New York City, and Albany County have all passed similar legislation prior to Suffolk.

“If my budget is $75-$80,000 and I find out that you make $60,000 right now, I can offer you $65,000 and say its a raised salary and, in essence, maintain you being underpaid,” George Latimer, Westchester County executive, said.

This trend in inequality pushed Westchester County to introduce this law and amend their wage gaps.

“It’s also morally correct,” Latimer said. “What’s good for men in power situations is really not fair. If you’re going to hire somebody that gets paid a certain amount of money, are you going to turn around on a person of color and pay them lower than that? That’s not right.”

By ensuring that all individuals applying for jobs get paid according to their qualifications, Latimer believes that it can maximise the revenues brought in.

“I think it’s pretty clear from a legal standpoint that if individuals are at the level they are qualified for, they have a greater impact in this economic climate and are able to do things to help the economy in Westchester,” he said.  

In a time where women empowerment has reached a peak with the #MeToo movement, introducing such basic laws to combat inequality has, faced some initial delay.

Steven J. Flotteron, a Suffolk County legislator (D-11), initially pressed to delay the vote as he had concerns about the legalities of this legislation.

“My initial concern was for the expenses and legal liabilities for the county,” Flotteron siad. “It was a question of constitutionalising it – that can we do this?”

Although Flotteron is now a co-sponsor of the legislation, his concerns remain valid.

“When you have a law like this, it is important to really educate one on it so they don’t break it.” He said. “How do we educate the employers?”    

Any individual who has been asked their previous salary can report it to the county and the county will inquire further into the business, Alexander Derosa, legislative aide to Leg. Hahn, said. Having legislation like this greatly diminishes the leverage an employer can have over minority groups and women.

Even with unanimous voting, the law will only be in effect after June 30th 2019.

While Latimer believes that Westchester implemented this law earlier than Suffolk due to the more progressive nature of the county, Flotteron says that the wait period is essentially there to allow employers and employees to properly understand the legalities of the bill and not break it.

“The Rise Act is a necessary step in closing the gaps of wage disparity that have hampered the success and upward mobility of women, especially minority women, for far too long,” Hahn said. “I am eager for this bill to help to combat gender inequality in the workplace.”


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