An order by President Barack Obama that was designed to help women in the workplace has been revoked. The reversal was accomplished in an executive order recently signed by President Donald Trump that directly affects action taken by his predecessor four years earlier.
The 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order required companies that had contracts with the federal government to comply with certain guidelines pertaining to both labor and civil rights issues. The action grew out of revelations of serious violations by such companies. An investigation showed that some of the firms were awarded contracts even after they had been penalized for unfair practices. The two major elements of the order pertained to the reporting of equal pay for female workers and the way women deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.
The action by Trump will allow contractors to no longer disclose such issues as the pay scales of their employees in general and the specific earnings of their female workers. The action by Obama was considered necessary to ensure that women are fairly paid by making employers submit to the government information on employee salaries, overtime pay and deductions. The need for such federal action was supported by one study showing that women who were paid on an hourly basis received some $1,000 per year less than men who did the same work for the same company. Among salaried employees, women were found to earn nearly $15,000 less annually than their male counterparts.
In addition to the pay issue, the action by Trump will revive mandatory arbitration, which had been used by companies to cover up cases of sexual harassment prior to the enactment of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. One of the best cases of mandatory arbitration involved Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who elected to directly sue the CEO of the company, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. Lawyers for Ailes attempted to settle the case through forced arbitration in order to keep the proceedings out of the public record.
Critics fear that Trump’s executive order will allow companies that do business with the government to again force female employees into secret proceedings. This could make it difficult for employees who are not such public figures as Carlson to avoid mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases.