This week’s Bad Bill of the Week is HB 603. Sponsored by Representatives Deborah Ross (D-Wake), Deb McManus (D-Chatham), Valerie Foushee (D-Orange), and Paul Tine (D-Beaufort), the The Equal Pay Act is a mess. The bill aims to guarantee fair compensation by requiring employers to pay all employees “the same wages in the same establishment for the same quality and quantity of the same classification of work.” No one will argue that this should always be the case in any effectively managed operation. However, the government mandating it offers yet another arbitrary, inconsistent piece of red tape for small business owners to deal with when trying to hire North Carolinians.
The bill is inherently full of holes. While it attempts to equalize pay, it offers so many exceptions that it essentially renders the bill meaningless. It goes on to state that, while unequal pay is an absolute no-no, employers can make exceptions based on “seniority, a difference in length of service, ability, skill, difference in duties or services performed, whether regularly or occasionally, difference in the shift or time of day worked, hours of work, or restrictions or prohibitions on lifting or moving objects in excess of specified weight, or other reasonable differentiation, factor or factors other than sex, when exercised in good faith. ” So in essence this bill would apply only to workers hired on the same day who share identical skills, work ethic, ability, knowledge, daily tasks and schedules. That basically rules out, well, everybody.
Even if the bill wasn’t full of inefficient regulatory red tape for business, would the Equal Pay Act be good policy for North Carolina or the people it’s trying to protect? No. It would make North Carolina business owners hesitant to hire new employees. Though the bill aims to achieve equal pay for women, it ultimately makes it more difficult for businesses to hire them because it opens employers up to retribution. If businesses are concerned that women could easily sue for better pay based on gender, it would make it more likely that employers avoided that risk altogether by passing over female applicants. Furthermore, it would make it difficult for employers to grant raises without wondering how it will affect compliance with the Equal Pay Act. At the end of the day, it simply makes it much more difficult for business owners to put more people to work in a time when North Carolinians are desperately in need of jobs.
While The Equal Pay Act may be well intentioned, reality doesn’t match up. In cases such as this, the legislature should look past its nice sounding title and realize that North Carolina workers need more than strictly rhetorical assurances of “fairness.” Naïve, full of holes and unintended consequences, HB 603 is this week’s Bad Bill of the Week.