Equal Pay Laws And Salary Disclosure

August 29, 2022


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Recent changes to the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA) now require 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.

What Is the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA)?

The Washington EPOA 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, and
  • Protection from retaliation.

Who Is Covered under the EPOA?

All employees and job applicants in Washington State have rights under the 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 the EPOA Promote Equal Pay and Equal Career Advancements?

Under equal pay laws, 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
  • Seniority
  • 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 needs

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. Also, your employer cannot ask employees to sign wage confidentiality 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.

As of 2023, Washington state employers with 15+ workers are required to post wage scale or salary range information in all job postings, as well as benefits and other compensation. Before that time, job applicants had 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 with prospective employers if you want.

Consequences for Violating Equal Pay Laws

There’s no 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 the EPOA?

You have two options when it comes to reporting a violation of the Washington EPOA; you can report the violation to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) or hire an employment law attorney and file a civil suit. There are pros and cons to both options.

Reporting an EPOA Violation to L&I

To report the equal pay laws violation to L&I, you must complete an EPOA 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.

EPOA Complaint Form

Mail your complaint form and documentation to the following address or drop it off at your nearest L&I office:

Department of Labor & Industries
Employment Standards
P.O. 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 an employer from acting irrationally and lashing out.

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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.

If you decide to sue your employer in civil court, L&I will no longer be allowed to get involved as soon as the legal documents are filed. Once you file a lawsuit you will not be able to change your mind.

Why Choose Emery | Reddy?

If you believe your rights have been violated under the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act, contact Emery | Reddy, PLLC for a free case review. Talking to an intake specialist before contacting L&I will help you understand all of your options and help you 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, 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.

Want More Information?

Wage and Hour Violations

Everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage and on time. Unfortunately, some employers disregard Washington state employment laws and don’t pay their employees what they are owed, resulting in wage and hour violations.

Document Review

A document review is a comprehensive consultation and analysis of your document’s legal language, context, and impact on your worker’s rights as an employee of Washington state. 

Wrongful Termination

If you believe you are a victim of wrongful termination, you need an aggressive and experienced legal team to fight for the justice you deserve.

Meet the Team

The Seattle Equal Pay Law Attorneys at Emery | Reddy, PLLC are passionate about helping workers with Employment Law issues and L&I claims. We Help Workers®. It’s our motto and what drives us every day.

We know how companies think, and we understand the tactics they use. Our Salary Disclosure Law Attorneys use that knowledge coupled with over two decades of experience to help our clients get access to the benefits to which they are legally entitled and hold employers accountable when they break the law.

If you’re struggling with an employment issue, injury, or L&I claim, please call us and see how Emery | Reddy can help you today.

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