Alaska Legislature Eyes Minimum Wage, Pay Equity and Discrimination Law Changes

The Equal Pay and Living Wage Act (the Act), currently before the Alaska Legislature as Alaska Senate Bill 16, seeks several significant changes to Alaska’s minimum wage, pay equity and employment discrimination law.  The Act was introduced on January 22, 2021.  If enacted, it would create the most comprehensive overhaul of Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws in at least 10 years. Of significance, the Act would: 

  • Raise the state minimum wage from $10.34 to $15.00 an hour effective January 1, 2022.
  • Recognize a right of action for discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation under the Alaska Human Rights Law (Alaska Statute 18.80, et seq.), which is enforced by the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights (ASCHR). Presently, Alaska’s law against discrimination prohibits discrimination in employment, credit and financing practices and places of public accommodation when such discrimination is based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, physical or mental disability, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, or parenthood. See AS 18.80.200, et seq.  The legislation would confirm that “gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation” are included in Alaska’s prohibition of gender discrimination.
  • Shift the responsibility and authority to investigate and respond to sex-based pay disparity complaints from ASCHR to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (AKDOL).  This change in enforcement could expand the statute of limitations and potential penalties for such claims:
    • Wage claims filed with AKDOL currently can be filed up to two years (or three years in the case of a willful violation) after the wages were alleged to be due.  The Act would permit equal pay claims to be filed with AKDOL up to three years after the alleged wages were due without any willfulness showing. This represents a substantial increase from the 180-300 days for claims filed with ASCHR. 
    • While ASCHR’s statutory authority is to provide a “make whole” remedy (typically back pay), a claim brought under the wage statutes can seek an award of back wages plus “liquidated damages equal to twice the amount of unpaid wages.”
  • Require AKDOL’s commissioner, or their designee, to prepare an annual report addressing employers’ compliance with state and federal wage laws and equal pay for comparable work, and assessing the sufficiency of current wage rates to support four-person households. The commissioner’s annual report must also recommend any necessary further legislative action.  To aid in this process, AKDOL would likely enact new regulations requiring employers to supplement current annual pay reporting.  

The Act would also prescribe new record-keeping and posting requirements for employers, and make it unlawful for employers to prohibit employees from freely discussing wages.

Employers are encouraged to monitor this bill as it works its way through the legislative process. If the Equal Pay and Living Wage Act — or any other upcoming bill — is of particular concern to your organization, please consult with employment counsel.  

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.