Harris Proposes Penalizing Corporate Profits to Eliminate Gender Pay Gap

'Pay women fairly or pay the price'

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
May 20, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris is proposing companies "pay" a hefty "price" for supposed wage disparities between men and women.

On Monday, Harris's campaign unveiled a proposal to eliminate the gender pay gap. Billed "as the most aggressive equal pay proposal in history," Harris's plan would require companies to apply for "equal pay certification" through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). To receive certification, companies with more than 100 employees would be required to disclose compensation data showing no existing wage disparities between men and women for "work of equal value."

"To the extent pay disparities do exist for similar jobs, companies will be required to show the gap is based on merit, performance, or seniority–not gender," Harris's proposal reads. By forcing companies to disclose their pay and employment data, Harris's plan would change current EEOC guidelines which require employees to come forward and report wage disparities.

"We've let corporations hide their wage gaps, but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they've earned," the California Democrat's campaign told the Associated Press. "It's time to flip the script and finally hold corporations accountable for pay inequality in America."

Companies failing the certification process would face a 1 percent fine on their total profit for every 1 percent wage gap allowed "to persist for work of equal value. Fines would be levied "for every day" companies "discriminate against their workers."

If elected, Harris—who has failed to pass a single piece of legislation since joining the Senate in 2017—is pledging to implement portions of the plan via "executive action," rather than waiting "for Congress to act."

"Kamala Harris has a simple message for corporations: Pay women fairly or pay the price," the campaign said on Monday. The "price" would generate "roughly $180 billion" in the first decade of implementation, with "revenue decreasing over time as strong equal pay practices become part of corporate culture." The campaign, however, did not include data to back up its revenue claims.

Harris's plan does not mention that workplace discrimination—including hiring, wages, promotion, and termination—on the basis of gender is already illegal, according to three existing federal statutes. In fact, numerous studies have shown the inequities that do exist between men and women are directly the result of the carveouts (merit, performance, or seniority) included in Harris's proposal.

The proposal comes as employee wages have hit a 10-year high, and the unemployment rate among American women has fallen to levels unseen since 1953.