Downey Bill to Fix Wage Gap Becomes Law

OCEAN TOWNSHIP - On Thursday, New Jersey came one step closer to ending the gender wage gap for good after new employee protections introduced by Assemblywoman Joann Downey and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling were signed into law.

Downey and Houghtaling are the prime sponsors of bill A-1094, an ambitious workplace reform that would remove questions of salary history from the job application process entirely. Too often, a salary offer from a new employer can be determined by an applicant's prior salary, rather than their experience or skills. When a female job seeker is forced to disclose her salary history in the course of applying for work, that number will likely be lower than a male counterpart’s, pushing the employer to offer a lower wage.

“The gender wage gap can drag down anyone’s earnings, even if their employer doesn’t mean to discriminate at all,” said Downey (D-Freehold). “A single underpaying job can set a worker back permanently, draining thousands or even millions of dollars from potential paychecks in other positions. Nobody should be paid less than they're worth, and as the mother of two young girls, I want to make sure that they’re paid for the value of their work - and not a cent less. With this new law, we're one step closer to making sure that if you work hard in New Jersey, you’ve earned a fair paycheck.”

A-1094 is Downey and Houghtaling's latest achievement in their fight for better paychecks and lower costs for Monmouth County taxpayers. Their recent “Every Kid Counts” initiative won $55 million for extraordinary special education aid to New Jersey schools, reducing the burden on school districts and local property taxpayers. A push by Houghtaling and Downey to expand access to the Senior Tax Freeze, a property tax relief program for New Jersey’s seniors, also won millions of dollars in additional funding while expanding access to the program for thousands of seniors across the state.

With this new law, the two lawmakers hope to continue helping working families by fighting back against unfairness in the workplace. According to recent studies, women working full time, year-round, earn on average $10,800 less per year than a man. In the aggregate, women are paid less than 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, a disparity that can add up to nearly half a million dollars over the course of a career.

“By retirement, wage discrimination can cost a woman hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Houghtaling (D-Neptune). “This gap may be wide enough that she may never reach the same rung on the salary ladder as her male equal. That’s a lifetime of unfairness and harm done to her family, her children, and even retirement income like Social Security or a pension.”

“Equal pay is vital for hardworking families in New Jersey, many of which increasingly rely on women’s earnings to make ends meet,” said Downey. “When women bring home a larger paycheck, it can help families across our state pay for everyday expenses like groceries, rent, and childcare. With this new law, we can put an end to a generations-long cycle of pay inequity, and help every person get the salary they deserve.”

Downey’s new salary-history law would prohibit employers from screening a job applicant based on their salary history, including prior wages, salaries or benefits. It would also make it illegal for an employer to require an applicant’s salary history to satisfy any minimum or maximum criteria.

Notably, the law includes a powerful enforcement measure, imposing hefty fines under the Law Against Discrimination up to $50,000 for violations of its provisions. Any employer who violates the bill’s provisions would be liable for a civil penalty up to $1,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. However, if the applicant is a member of a protected class defined by the Equal Pay Law - including women - an employer would also be liable to fines up to $10,000 for the first violation, $25,000 for the second violation, and $50,000 for each subsequent violation.

“Pay equity might be the law of the land in New Jersey, but we need a tool to properly enforce it,” said Downey. “The Law Against Discrimination gives us that tool, allowing New Jersey to wipe away a history of bias and implicit discrimination. With this new law, we can finally give working women and their families a fresh start, with the compensation that they truly deserve.”

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