Oregon Equal Pay Act Adds Needed Protections for Disabled Workers and Other Protected Classes

The 2017 Oregon Legislature amended the Oregon Equal Pay Act (HB 2005),  which prohibits employers from inquiring about the salary history of job applicants.  The law also makes it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate in compensation on the basis of an employee's protected class, which the Act defines as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability or age.  Instead, compensation must be based on a bona fide factor, such as an employee's training, experience, seniority, education, or merit.  Compensation under the law includes all forms of compensation, not just wages.  The law previously only prohibited gender pay disparities, but was amended to apply to the range of protected classes above and added additional protections, such as the prohibition on salary history inquiries.

This law is expansive in that the statute of limitations begins to run each time compensation is paid under a discriminatory compensation system.  Furthermore, unlike other claims, if the discrimination is committed by a public body, the individual has 300 days (instead of 180 days) to give notice to the public body of the alleged loss or injury.

The new law provides necessary protections for disabled workers and other protected classes, because it prevents potential employers from perpetuating discrimination in compensation by former employers.  It also prevents employers from taking into consideration an employee's protected class in determining compensation, whether directly or indirectly.  Thus, disability-related conduct also should not be taken into consideration when determining compensation.

The Oregon Equal Pay Act takes effect on October 6, 2017.  Private rights of action and the non-discrimination provisions of the law take effect on January 1, 2019.  The ability to seek punitive damages under the act takes effect January 1, 2024.