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State law on combating gender pay disparities goes into effect

A law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

A law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to prevent gender pay discrimination went into effect Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/Matthew Chayes

A New York State law aimed at combating pay disparities that leave women earning less on average than men took effect Tuesday.

The measure amends state labor law to require private employers to provide equal pay not just for equal work, but also for "substantially similar work," according to the bill.

"In order to establish an equal pay violation, an employee must demonstrate that their job is substantially equal to the job of their higher-paid colleague," the measure reads. "This bill would lessen this burden by requiring employers to also ensure equal pay for 'substantially similar work.' "

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo praised the measure in a news release Monday.

"We are at a critical point in history when this country is finally recognizing the long-term discrimination against women and taking action to right the wrongs of an unfair system," he said in a statement. "Now it's time for businesses across the state to take a hard look at their pay policies and ensure women employees get paid the same as their male colleagues if they are doing substantially similar work."

Newsday reported over the weekend that women who work full-time for Long Island municipal governments receive on average two-thirds the pay of their male counterparts. Female full-time employees of the 17 county, town and city governments averaged $71,300 in total annual pay from 2011 to 2017, while men received $106,700, a difference of $35,400, according to Newsday’s analysis.

The state law that took effect Tuesday also prohibits unequal pay based on an employee's age, race or other protected class categories.

Allegra Fishel, founder and executive director of the Gender Equality Law Center in Brooklyn, applauded the measure, although she said it will remain difficult for women to prove they were paid less than co-workers for substantially similar work.

"Cases across the country have failed when employees have tried to use this analysis because employers can still legally pay men and women differently based on education, experience and seniority," she said.

The measure was one of a number of pay equity bills the state legislature passed this year. One, which takes effect in January, prohibits employers from asking job candidates about their salary histories, which the bill calls "a root cause of continued wage inequality."

The legislature also approved bills aimed at ensuring pay equity in civil service jobs. They have not yet been delivered to the governor to sign, according to the State Senate website.

Newsday's analysis found Suffolk and Nasasu counties had the first- and third-largest pay gaps of the Long Island governments studied. Women who worked full-time for Suffolk County from 2011 to 2017 earned on average $50,400 less in total pay than men. In Nassau the gap was $42,100.

To confront the pay gaps in Long Island government workforces, advocates and labor leaders say local officials should review civil service job titles and pay grades to ensure similar jobs are paid equitably, ramp up efforts to recruit women to high-paying jobs, increase the pay of jobs held mostly by women and offer more flexible work schedules and family leave.

State & Region