A day after advocates descended on the Capitol to push for women’s rights, the Illinois House passed a bill that proponents say would help close the pay gap between men and women.
Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin, the measure would bar employers from asking job applicants for prior wage or salary history unless it’s already public information or the applicant is moving within the company. Moeller and other supporters say this would help curb wage discrimination against women by ensuring an employer’s salary offer isn’t based on an unequal wage.
“If you base a new salary on a previous salary where women weren’t making as much as men, you’re just perpetuating that inequity,” said Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed, a women’s advocacy organization.
Moeller said her bill also would strengthen Illinois’ Equal Pay Act by requiring employers to justify paying people different wages and ensuring those differences are based on legitimate, legal reasons like experience. In addition, the bill would increase the penalties for employers that violate the law.
Business groups say the bill would weaken employers’ defenses and open them up to more lawsuits. Alec Laird, a lobbyist for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the wording of the bill could also keep employers from having necessary conversations with applicants about health insurance and other benefits.
Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, contended the legislation would create a “trial lawyer paradise” and damage the state’s business climate.
“This bill has nothing to do with pay equity,” Breen said. “All it’s doing is putting additional restrictions on people who want to create jobs in this state. That’s the reason every single business group in the state is opposed. Please. This is the stupidest bill we’ve considered, at least this week. Please vote no.”
But the bill did win support from some Republicans who said it was time for lawmakers to address inequalities in the workplace. It passed the House 91-24 and now heads to the Senate.
“I may be one of the few people in this assembly that spent 30 years working for a large corporation, in fact one of the largest corporations in the world. This was my life, and I have to vote for this bill,” said Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, a former attorney for a major oil and gas company. “I think about with very great regret how much more I would have retired with if we’d had some of the protections that our representative is fighting for here today.”
In related action, a Senate panel gave initial approval to the federal Equal Rights Amendment, more than 30 years after it fell three states short of the required number to amend the Constitution. Supporters contend the change can still be made and are pushing for states to sign off on the amendment.