State House Memo: Equal Pay Law works in New Hampshire but we can make it clearer
Paying women less than men for the same job is illegal. New Hampshire has required equal pay since 1947, nearly two decades before the federal government passed its laws on the issue.
New Hampshire employers should also be congratulated for their overall compliance on this issue. We have and continue to lead America in the overall closing of wage gaps and, due to the commitment in this state, ensuring equality. In fact, there have been no convictions I can find under our state equal pay statute over the last 20 years. But that doesn’t mean I think we have all the data we need to ensure our commitment to pay fairness.
Democratic Sen. Sylvia Larsen of Concord has sponsored a bill to review New Hampshire’s equal pay statute, and last week I chaired a hearing on SB 207 in the Senate Commerce Committee.
It was one of the most productive public hearings we’ve had since I’ve been in the Senate.
We found a lot of common ground on the issue and both recognized some reasons it is hard to definitely understand or put the issue to rest. Our state government has not been that good at keeping the type of data we need to accurately assess how the statute is working.
The New Hampshire attorney general’s office hasn’t tracked complaints or violations under the law. The Labor Department knows of only three investigations in the past 20 years, all of which were dismissed when employers showed legitimate reasons for a disparity in pay between employees. The New Hampshire Human Rights Commission has two open cases but hasn’t kept track of how many complaints it has handled over the years.
We need to know more about wages in New Hampshire and whether complaints filed under the equal pay law are being addressed properly.
Our state departments can also do a better job informing the public of employee rights. We shouldn’t need legislation to get our state websites updated, but if that’s what it takes, we’ll do it.
In researching this bill, I had a hard time finding reliable information on the pay gap in New Hampshire. The only information presented was an aggregate of average wages for all male and female workers. While that shows there is a difference, we need to be able to drill down and examine the differences much more closely. The best resource I found was a detailed survey from the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Gender Equality Committee. The Bar has been tracking gender differences with the legal profession since the 1990s, and this report demonstrates the complexity in closing that gap.
Additionally, state and federal laws appear to overlap and contradict each other. Multiple agencies have jurisdiction, and so none are accountable. Employees don’t know how or where to file a complaint, whether it should be a gender discrimination claim or equal pay, or whether they should go to a state office or to federal court. We should take this opportunity to make it clear that equal pay is the law in New Hampshire, and we will enforce it.
Workers should know the protections they have in the New Hampshire workplace, and they should know where they can turn for help.
I look forward to working with Larsen any my colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee to update and improve New Hampshire’s equal pay law.
(Sen. Andy Sanborn is a Republican from Bedford and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.)