News & Commentary

April 16, 2021

Alexandra Butler

Alexandra Butler is a student at Harvard Law School.

The number of initial state unemployment claims decreased by 193,000 last week, resulting in a weekly total of 576,000 claims. While reassuring, these numbers nevertheless highlight the work that remains when it comes to repairing the labor market. Ultimately, it is a question of supply and demand. As one economist notes, increasing job availability is crucial to the road to recovery. Yet, many emphasize that eliminating the labor shortage is equally as pressing. To do so, for example, will require the creation of safe workplaces to which employees feel comfortable returning.

On Thursday, the House voted in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, also known as H.R. 7. Designed to facilitate gender pay equity, the Act seeks to limit employer discretion when it comes to salary decisions. Under the Act, prior wage history would no longer be a factor considered in pay determinations. In addition, the legality of pay disparities would depend solely on the existence of a “job-related factor” that could explain the salary difference. While supporters of the bill see it as “an opportunity to finally secure equal pay for equal work,” some businesses believe that it will be detrimental to employee advancement and unnecessarily expose companies to legal liability. 

recent lawsuit challenges Darden Restaurants’ use of the tipped minimum wage. Under this scheme, employers rely on tips to fully comply with their area’s minimum wage standards. As a result, employees are often salaried at no more than $2.13/hour. In the initial complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the tipped minimum wage, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, creates and facilitates a hostile and discriminatory work environment that leaves women and people of color especially vulnerable to mistreatment. 

In response to employer concerns, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will issue guidance regarding the legality of COVID-19 vaccine incentives offered to employees.

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