Reform Efforts Continue for Delaware Women


DOVER – Continuing a push begun last year to broaden equality and opportunity for women in Delaware, women lawmakers of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses today unveiled three pieces of legislation aimed at equal employment and health care privacy.

“I’m proud to say we started a serious conversation last year about issues of fairness and justice facing women in Delaware, but my colleagues and I knew that there would be more to do,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear. “These bills represent some of the next steps we need to take, recognizing the unique challenges we as women face when it comes to our jobs and our health care decisions.”

The bills filed today directly address workplace issues that primarily impact women. House Bill 314 would make it unlawful for an employer to require an employee to keep his or her wages secret. Currently, 13 states have wage disclosure laws on the books.

“Wage secrecy is one of the big barriers that keeps women from earning as much as their male colleagues for the same work. Though it can be considered taboo to talk about fellow workers’ pay, some companies actually prohibit it outright,” said HB 314 sponsor Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “We want all employees, not just women, to be able to talk openly about wage fairness in the workplace.”

“We are not dictating to companies how they should compensate their employees, but we are saying that companies should not be able to bar their employees from talking about their wages,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington South, the Senate sponsor of HB 314. “Companies should not be able to hush their workers as a means of avoiding the broader conversation about equal pay.”

House Bill 316, dubbed the “Not My Boss’ Business” bill, would reinforce the right to privacy when it comes to health and reproductive care decisions made by employees. This bill would prohibit employers from requiring workers to disclose their personal decisions about family planning.

“We’ve heard the stories over and over – employees feel pressured by their bosses to disclose the deeply personal decisions they have made or intend to make related to raising a family,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, lead sponsor of HB 316. “We believe that an employee’s plans for his or her family should have no bearing on business decisions made by their employer.”

“A woman’s health care decisions are between her and her doctor, period,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, the Senate sponsor of HB 316. “Women should not have to open themselves up to shame or potential retribution because of an employer’s feelings about deeply personal, private health care choices.”

The third workplace measure, House Bill 317, would prohibit employers from engaging in discrimination based on an individual’s family caregiver obligations. For example, this legislation would protect a worker who is helping to care for an elderly relative or a child with a disability. According to a 2014 report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, 36 percent of parents say they were denied raises, promotions or new jobs based on their caregiving responsibilities.

“So often, the role of primary caregiver for an aging parent or a child with special needs is filled by a daughter or mother who also has a full-time job,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, sponsor of HB 317. “No one should have to choose between earning a living and making sure that a loved one is cared for properly. Employers should judge people on how well they perform their jobs, not the responsibilities they may have at home.”

“Family caregivers play a critical role in our society and their selflessness should be rewarded, not punished,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, who is sponsoring HB 317 in the Senate. “This bill makes it clear that bosses cannot be punitive toward an employee who takes on a caregiver role, as long as they are performing the duties the job requires.”

The bills introduced today are in addition to 11 measures rolled out last March. To date, seven of those bills have been signed into law, including legislation mandating equal pay for equal work in state contracting, a resolution that produced a comprehensive report on all untested rape kits in Delaware, and a measure guaranteeing employees the right to take leave based on circumstances of domestic violence or sexual assault.