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New Oregon law will protect employees who ask about or disclose wages — STATE LAW,(Jun. 16, 2015)

Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has signed legislation that makes it an unlawful employment practice to discipline an employee who inquires about or discloses wage information, with a limited exception. The measure also provides protection to an employee who makes a charge, files a complaint, or institutes a proceeding stemming from the disclosure of the wage information made by the employee. Where the law is violated, aggrieved employees have the right to a private cause of action. The new law is effective January 1, 2016.

Drive to alleviate wage inequality. The measure, H.B. 2007, cleared the state senate late last month with a 17-13 vote after having garnered approval in the house by a 34-24 ballot in March. Governor Brown signed it on June 10. The measure stems from a 2011 Labor Commission directive requiring the Oregon Council on Civil Rights to create a formal set of policy recommendations on equal pay in the state, according to a legislative analysis. Two years later, lawmakers passed S.B. 744, directing the Council to study wage inequality and its contributing factors. In January 2014, the Council issued its formal recommendations. H.B. 2007 was introduced to address one of the recommendations contained in the report.

Protection for wage disclosure. Among other things, H.B. 2007 makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to “discharge, demote or suspend, or to discriminate or retaliate against, an employee with regard to promotion, compensation or other terms, conditions or privileges of employment” because the employee has:

Inquired about, discussed or disclosed the employee’s own wages or the wages of another employee; or

Made a charge, filed a complaint, or instituted, or caused to be instituted, an investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action based on the wage information disclosure made by the employee.

Exception. There is an exception that removes theses protections when employees who have access to employee wage information as part of their job functions disclose employee wages to individuals not authorized to access that information, unless the disclosure is made in response to a charge or complaint or is in furtherance of an investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action, including investigations conducted by the employer.

Remedies. An aggrieved individual may file a civil action in circuit court, which may order injunctive relief and any other equitable relief that may be appropriate, including but not limited to reinstatement or the hiring of employees with or without back pay. Back pay is limited to the two-year period immediately preceding the filing of a complaint with the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, or if a complaint was not filed before the action was commenced, the two-year period immediately preceding the filing of the action. The court may also award the prevailing party costs and reasonable attorney fees at trial and on appeal.

Effective date. Under Oregon law, legislation such as H.B. 2007 that does not include a prescribed effective date, is effective on January 1 of the year following enactment.