Punishing employers who don't enforce gender pay equity

As of last Friday, Kamala Harris remains mired at the back of the middle tier of candidates, stuck at around 5% support. Of particular concern to her campaign is how well Joe Biden is doing with women in all of the polling. It’s clearly time for some drastic measures if she wants to break out of the basement and she appears to have chosen a uniquely female-oriented proposal as a solution. All the Democrats support closing the supposed gender wage gap and it makes for some great progressive talking points. But Harris has come out with a proposal to fine any employers who don’t pay women equally and put the money toward social justice solutions. (Politico)

Kamala Harris released an ambitious proposal Monday to punish companies that don’t pay women equally — taking an aggressive stand on a pay parity issue that has seen some advances in Congress but persists at the highest levels of corporate America.

Harris’ plan, which broadly mandates that companies prove they aren’t discriminating against women, proposes to fine corporations that don’t close their pay gaps between women and men — with the proceeds going toward building out universal paid family and medical leave.

Several studies have shown that women earn less than men, with the gap larger for Latinas and black women. Harris previewed the plan at a Sunday rally in Los Angeles, taking aim at the pay gap. “This has got to end!” she said.

I guess the provisions of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 just aren’t woke enough for 2019. Or at least so Harris seems to hope.

Let’s just pause for a moment and imagine a future where Harris not only wins the nomination but is the 46th president. How exactly will employers in the private sector comply with this mandate and avoid being fined or driven out of business? When hiring a new female employee, during the salary part of the negotiations, if she asks for a lower number than some of the men who work there are currently making, is the employer to say, “Oh, no! That’s not nearly enough. You’ll have to take more.”

What if the female candidate has fewer years of direct experience and less education than some of her coworkers? What if other employees have multiple patents in their field of endeavor and she has none? Should their achievements be ignored in terms of compensation in the interest of “fairness?” Keep in mind that every one of these questions would apply equally if we were talking about a less accomplished male who was seeking a position alongside more qualified female employees.

Harris’ proposal (in the form of a white paper) goes further, saying that if Congress doesn’t quickly pass such legislation, she would take executive action to enforce these rules on government contractors. Wait… I thought using executive action to work around Congress was a bad thing.

Unfortunately, the proposal Harris is putting forward undermines itself in terms of the questions I asked above. She insists that companies qualify for “Equal Pay Certification,” provided by the federal government. But it specifically says they can have pay disparities if they “are solely based on merit, performance and seniority.” People rarely have the exact same amount of experience and accomplishments, so you’re never going to achieve “equity” anyway. And virtually all of the studies these wage gap claims are based upon fail to account for factors including differences in earnings between men and women in the same or substantially similar jobs, take into account the number of working hours for each, or break down wage gaps by industry or age.

This sounds like one more federal government hoop for employers to jump through and more bureaucratic functions to pay for since some team is going to have to make sure that the country’s millions of employers are in compliance.