Equal Pay and Opportunities Act

Employee Rights to Equal Pay and Opportunities

Pay and career advancement opportunities cannot be based on gender. The Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA) prohibits gender pay discrimination and promotes fairness among workers by addressing business practices that contribute to gender pay gaps. Employees and applicants have different rights under this law.

 

Employee Rights

Job Applicant Rights

Equal pay, not based on gender

Privacy of wage or salary history when applying for a job (except under certain circumstances)

Equal career advancement opportunities, not based on gender

No requirement for wage or salary history to meet certain criteria

Ability to discuss wages

Access to minimum wage or salary information of a new position

Access to wage or salary information of a new position or promotion

 

Protection from retaliation

 

 

Employee protections

It is unlawful to base an employee's pay or career advancement opportunities on the employee's gender. Employees also have the protected right to discuss their wages and have the right to access certain wage and salary information.

Equal pay

Gender cannot be a reason for pay differences between employees with similar jobs. Determining if employees have similar jobs is based on skill, effort, and responsibility, not job titles. Differences in pay for similar jobs may be acceptable only in certain circumstances, as described below.

Acceptable reasons for a difference in pay

Differences in pay between genders may be acceptable if the difference is not based on gender, and is solely based on business necessity. Acceptable factors for differences in pay may include:

  • Differences in education, training, or experience
  • Seniority
  • Merit/quality of work
  • Measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production
  • Regional differences in compensation
  • Differences in local minimum wages

Employers bear the burden of proof to justify why pay differences exist. An employee's previous wage or salary history cannot be used to justify gender pay differences.

Equal career advancement opportunities

Employers cannot limit or deprive an employee of career advancement opportunities that would otherwise be available, based on gender.

Acceptable reasons for differences in career advancement opportunities

Differences in career advancement opportunities between genders may be acceptable if the difference is based on:

  • Differences in education, training, or experience
  • Seniority
  • Merit/quality of work
  • Measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production

Open wage discussions

Employers cannot prohibit employees from disclosing, comparing, or discussing their wages or the wages of other employees. Wage non-disclosure agreements for employees are prohibited.
Employers can require employees who have access to other employees' wage information as part of their job duties to keep that information confidential.

Access to wage or salary information

Employers must provide an employee who is offered an internal transfer or promotion with the wage scale or salary range of their new position if they request that information. If a wage scale or salary range does not exist, the employer must provide the minimum wage or salary  expectation set by the employer prior to posting the position, making a position transfer, or making the promotion. Employers with fewer than 15 employees do not have to meet the these requirements.

Protection from discrimination, retaliation, and firing

Employers cannot take any adverse action against an employee for discussing wages, filing a complaint, testifying in a proceeding related to the law, or exercising other protected rights granted under the Equal Pay and Opportunities Act. Additionally, employers cannot retaliate against employees who ask about their wages or lack of opportunity for advancement.

Applicant protections

Hiring practices such as asking an applicant for their salary history or requiring a minimum previous salary to be considered for a new position can contribute to ongoing earning inequalities and are prohibited by law.

Wage and salary history privacy

Employers cannot seek the wage or salary history of an applicant.  An employer may confirm an applicant's salary after the employer negotiates and makes an offer of employment, including pay, to the applicant.

Employees can voluntarily disclose their wage or salary history to prospective employers.

Protection from wage and salary history requirements for applicants

Employers cannot require that an applicant's prior wage or salary history meet certain criteria.

Access to minimum wage or salary information for applicants

Employers must provide an applicant who is offered a position with the minimum wage or salary of the position they are applying for, if requested. Employers with fewer than 15 employees do not have to meet this requirement.

Filing a complaint

To file a complaint against an employer (or former employer) for violating this law, fill out the Equal Pay and Opportunities Act complaint form and mail it to:

Department of Labor & Industries
Employment Standards
PO Box 44510
Olympia, WA 98504-4510

OR

Bring the complaint form to your nearest L&I office.

You also have the right to file private legal action against an employer for violations of this law. However, if a civil complaint is filed in court, L&I cannot investigate the complaint.

 

For more information

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