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New bills, Minnesota law seek to address gender gap in pay

by Kate Tormey ~ October 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In the United States, women earn roughly three-fourths of what men are paid, according to an assessment of the wage gap between men and women. The American Association of University Women does the assessment, and it also seeks to find answers to why the wage gap exists.
It notes, for example, that there tends to be a difference in pay between male-dominated fields of employment and those areas commonly chosen by women (such as teaching). Women are also more likely to leave the labor force or find part-time work in order to care for children or other family members. Ten years after graduation, 23 percent of mothers were out of the workforce and 17 percent were working part-time, compared with 1 percent and 2 percent of men, respectively.
But in its report, the association argues that even when skill, education, and other conditions are comparable, women still earn less.
States in the Midwest have taken steps to address these inequities, most notably Minnesota.
Thirty years ago, it became the first state to enact a pay-equity measure in state government, requiring people in jobs of comparable skill, effort and responsibility to be paid the same. And under legislation passed this year (HF 2536), any private company with 40 or more employees that is seeking state contracts of $500,000 or more must certify that it is paying equal wages.
The law also provides funding to encourage women to seek professions in which their gender is underrepresented, and puts in place protections for women who are pregnant or new mothers who stay in the workforce. The new law, for example, doubles guaranteed unpaid parental leave from six weeks to 12. In addition, employees can use existing sick leave to recover from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Many of the provisions in the Minnesota law are also part of federal legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has stalled in the U.S. Congress.
A package of bills introduced in Michigan last year (SB 296-299) would create an equal-pay commission, strengthen state laws on wage transparency, and increase penalties for discrimination. In Ohio, SB 92 would narrow an exception that currently allows employers to pay different wages for similar work under certain circumstances.