FAQ about Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act
Recent changes to the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA) now requires employers to share the wage scale or salary range in all job postings, as well as a description of benefits offered to job seekers. In addition, employers are prohibited from asking a job candidate for their salary history.
Check out the FAQ below about equal pay laws in Washington state to learn more and see if you have a case against your current or former employer.
What is the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA)?
The Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act prohibits gender pay discrimination and promotes fairness among workers by addressing business practices that lead to income inequalities between genders. While the law was originally created to level the playing field for women, it now offers a wide variety of protections for employees and job seekers of all genders.
In general, the Washington EPOA provides:
- Equal pay and career advancement opportunities
- Open wage discussions
- Access to wage and salary information for employees and job seekers
- Salary history privacy
- Protection from retaliation
Who is covered under EPOA?
All employees and job applicants in Washington state have rights under EPOA.
The law makes it illegal for employers to base an employee’s pay or career advancement opportunities on their gender. The law also gives workers the right to discuss their wages freely without fear of retaliation and access certain wage and salary information.
Job applicants are also entitled to many of the same legal protections as employees. For example, employers are not allowed to ask an applicant for their salary history or require them to make a minimum salary to be considered for a new position.
How does EPOA promote equal pay and equal career advancements?
Under the law, gender cannot be used as a basis for pay differences between employees with similar jobs. Determining whether employees have similar jobs must be based on skill, effort, and responsibility, not just on job titles. Additionally, employers cannot limit or deprive you of career advancement opportunities based on gender.
In some cases, however, there are some exceptions where differences in pay or career advancement opportunities may be acceptable under the law:
- Differences in education, training, or experience
- Work performance
- Measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production
- Regional differences in compensation
- Differences in local minimum wages
- Job-related factors consistent with business need
Washington Salary Disclosure Laws
The law also protects employees and job applicants when it comes to sharing salary information.
Can employees discuss wages in the workplace?
Yes. Under the Washington EPOA, it’s illegal for employers to prevent employees from sharing or discussing their wages or the wages of other employees. Your employer also cannot ask employees to sign wage non-disclosure agreements. However, if your job gives you access to other employees’ wage information as part of your job duties (such as Human Resources), your employer can require you to keep that information confidential.
Furthermore, employers cannot punish employees for discussing wages, filing a complaint, testifying in a proceeding related to the law, or exercising other protected rights granted under the EPOA. Additionally, employers cannot retaliate against employees who ask about their wages or lack of opportunity for advancement.
How can I get wage or salary information?
If you are offered an internal transfer or promotion, you can request your employer to provide you with the wage scale or salary range of the new position. If a wage scale or salary range does not exist, your employer must provide the minimum wage or salary expectation they set prior to posting the position or offering the promotion.
Starting in 2023, Washington employers with 15+ workers will be required to post wage scale or salary range information in all job postings, as well as benefits and other compensation. Until that time, job applicants will need to request it themselves.
Am I required to share my wage and salary history with a prospective employer?
No. Employers cannot ask you for your wage or salary history, nor can employers require that an applicant’s prior wage or salary history meet certain criteria. You can choose to share your wage or salary history to prospective employers if you want.
Consequences for Violating Equal Pay Laws
There’s no good excuse for employers not to follow the law – they will not only be responsible for paying fines and damages to the wronged employee, but it will also hurt their reputation and business. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always stop employers from discriminating against their employees and violating their rights.
How do I report a violation of EPOA?
You have two options when it comes to reporting a violation of the Washington EPOA: report the violation to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) or hire an attorney and file a civil suit. There are pros and cons to both options.
Reporting an EPOA Violation to L&I
To report the violation to L&I, you must complete a complaint form and send it to them. You will also need to include additional documentation and evidence of the violation. This can include paystubs, emails, texts, or official correspondence. After receiving your complaint, they will investigate your employer and determine if there is a violation and fine them as necessary.
Mail your complaint form and documentation to the following address or drop it off at your nearest L&I office:
Department of Labor & Industries
PO Box 44510
Olympia, WA 98504-4510
While L&I is the official government body for handling EPOA violations, the wheels of bureaucracy often turn slowly, and it could be a long time before any decisions are made. L&I will try to collect any money owed to you by your employer, but they make no promises they will be able to collect it. Additionally, L&I has to notify your employer that you filed a complaint, which could make things at work uncomfortable if you’re still working for that employer. Retaliation is illegal, but again, that doesn’t always stop people from acting irrationally and lashing out.
Hiring an attorney and filing a civil suit
If you don’t want to file a complaint with L&I, you can always hire an experienced employment attorney to help you sue your employer instead. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff (you) may be awarded damages, interest, statutory penalties, costs, and attorney fees. To determine whether you have a case, you will also need to submit the same documentation and evidence to your attorney.
One thing to note about filing a lawsuit for an EPOA violation: if you decide to sue your employer in civil court, L&I is not allowed to get involved as soon the legal documents are filed. Filing a lawsuit may yield better results, but you won’t be able to change your mind once it’s filed.
Why Choose Emery Reddy?
If you believe your rights have been violated under the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act, call the employment attorneys at Emery Reddy for a free case consultation. Talking to an attorney before contacting L&I will help you understand all of your options are and make the best choice for your situation.
Standing up to an employer who violated your rights can often feel scary and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With more than two decades’ worth of experience on both sides of the table, we know what it takes to hold employers accountable. We’ve won tens of millions of dollars for clients dealing with workers’ rights violations. Find out how we can help you too – call our legal team now to find out if you have a case and what options are available.