Small business wage discrimination protections advanced

Senators advanced a bill March 2 that would expand state wage discrimination protections.

LB83, as originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, would have provided legal protection to employees who want to voluntarily disclose their wage information.

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 27-10, replaced the original bill with a provision from LB928, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello.

Currently, employers with at least 15 employees must provide equal pay for equal work, without discriminating based upon an employee’s gender. Small businesses—defined as any business with less than 15 employees—are exempt from this provision.

As amended, LB83 would remove the small business exemption. Mello said 45 states currently have some form of wage discrimination protection, six of which—including Nebraska—have exemptions based on the number of employees.

“Nebraska is the only state that puts the mark at 15 or more employees, all others have a lower threshold,” he said. “[This] would not go beyond existing federal law when it comes to equal pay statutes.”

Cook supported the amendment, saying equal pay is an important economic security issue for women and their families.

“Despite progress in many areas and aspects, women still earn less than their male counterparts, even for the same position and same length of service,” she said. “It’s important we address this unfairness that has negative impacts and consequences for women and families, taxpayers and our overall economy.”

Sen. Joni Craighead of Omaha supported the amended bill. She said that despite progress, women continue to earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.

“My rent is not 78 percent of what men pay. My loaf of bread does not cost 78 percent of what it does for a man,” she said. “This issue is alive and well and we need to deal with it today.”

Calling the documentation requirements under the state’s wage discrimination statute overly burdensome, Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus opposed the bill. He said small businesses may not have the resources to meet the requirements of the bill.

“We have to find a balance between onerous restrictions on businesses and protecting people from discrimination,” Schumacher said “I don’t think we need to burden small businesses that would be subject to these requirements.”

The bill advanced to select file on a 26-7 vote.

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