The Biden administration is not the first to create an office dedicated to women’s issues, but its Gender Policy Council (GPC) is likely to impact employers more directly than those that came before. However, with so much news breaking on a near-daily basis, it hasn’t yet received much attention from employers.
Of course, it’s early days; we’re not likely to see any impact on employment until fall. In the meantime, it’s yet one more thing that employers should keep on their radar as they make HR and compliance decisions. Here’s what we know so far.
The Gender Policy Council: Who, What, Why
President Biden, who ran on a platform of racial and gender equity, established the GPC on March 8, 2021 via Executive Order 14020. Its objective: “to advance equal rights and opportunities, regardless of gender or gender identity,” by promoting “workplace diversity, fairness, and inclusion.”
While the council’s goals are sweeping, some are particularly relevant to employers, such as addressing structural barriers to women’s participation in the workforce, decreasing gender wage and wealth gaps, and tackling the impact of COVID on women.
This appears to be more than lip service. For one thing, most of the President cabinet—including the Secretary of Labor, the Attorney General, and the Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—are required participants.
For another, the GPC has very specific charges. Within 200 days (i.e., by September 24, 2021), the council must submit a specific, government-wide strategy for advancing gender equity and equality.
Once the strategy is finalized, each agency head will review his/her agency’s policies and programs accordingly, making changes as needed. They will report to the council semi-annually and prepare an annual report for the President—a version of which will be shared with the public.
3 Ways GPC Actions Are Likely to Impact Employers
Clearly, it’s too early to predict exactly what the GPC’s plan might entail. And while some changes can be made at the agency level, others will require legislative action.
That said, some HR and employment law experts have made a few predictions, based on the Biden-Harris platform, including our top three:
1. Taking Steps to Close the Pay Equity Gap
For every dollar a man makes, the average woman makes 82 cents—a fact the Biden-Harris administration frequently cites. It’s anticipated that the GPC will make a host of recommendations and policy changes aimed at achieving pay equity, including:
- Reinstituting the EEO-1 Component 2 reporting mandate, requiring employers to provide wage data and hours worked by employee gender, race/ethnicity, and job category.
- Renewing enforcement efforts related to pay discrimination by federal contractors.
- Making it easier for employees to join related class-action lawsuits.
- Supporting a national salary history ban.
- Increasing penalties against employers found to discriminate.
…and supporting other elements of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was reintroduced in the House in January and currently sits in the Senate.
2. Supporting a Paid Family Leave Initiative
Nearly 3,000,000 women have left the workforce since the pandemic began—at rates much higher than men—often due to child care issues. One directive of the executive order is to recognize “the gender and racial disparities that COVID-19 has…exacerbated,” and address its “related economic disruption on women.”
Experts predict that the GPC may push to establish paid family leave to keep working mothers in the workforce, perhaps spring-boarding off the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. However, in his just-released American Families Plan, President Biden has already called for both a national paid leave program (as well as universal pre-school), beating the GPC to the punch. Whether it becomes law is another issue.
3. Cracking Down on Workplace Sexual Harassment
In order to deter workplace sexual harassment, a growing number of states are limiting the use of nondisclosure agreements in harassment and discrimination settlements. The GPC council may move to initiate a similar mandate on a federal level, encouraging employers to get tough on such unacceptable behavior by exerting pressure through public opinion.
Employers, Be Ready
While it is uncertain exactly what the impact of the GPC will be on employers—or what other employment legislation will pass in the meantime—it is a fair bet that changes are coming.
Furthermore, because President Biden has promised additional funding for agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to enforce pay equity laws and investigate violations, compliance is more important than ever.
When it comes to compliance, your HR software is—or should be—one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Because EPAY’s HCM solution is designed for employers managing an hourly workforce, its packed with unique compliance safeguards others systems don’t have. Care about compliance? See what’s different.