By Elliot Clark
I accept that worker’s rights have been protected, upheld, and even elevated to global consciousness by seminal legislation. Here in the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 began the process of stamping out gender and racial inequality. Since 1964, it’s been a bit of a letdown. We have gone from statesmanship to stupidity almost all over the globe. Much of today’s legislation is either not implemented or is suggested by people who don’t know how to run a business. While I don’t necessarily begrudge civil servants their career choices, for the sake of common sense, please listen to people who do. The most frequently approved legislation lately is the law of unintended consequences.
What precipitated this column? Philadelphia. The city where I live is trying to end wage inequality. That is noble, but how they intend to do it is the problem. The city council and our “cause-driven” mayor, Jim Kenney, want to pass a law making it illegal for employers in Philadelphia to ask a prospective employee about their wage history.
Really? Who dreamt that one up?
My response? A policy that offers every employee minimum wage, but with the opportunity to earn more if candidates volunteer the information. Most large companies are operating inside salary band structures, and most small companies would never try to discriminate against a protected class unless they were also really, really, really stupid. So, here we go again with a solution in search of a problem. This is a politically-driven crusade that will not only fail to solve the problem—I am not arguing that inequality does not exist at all—but will actually create unforeseen responses and perhaps even a bigger mess.
Now, stupid workplace legislation is nothing new to the HR profession. California has a law that says employee bathrooms need to be 68°F (20°C) or higher. Do we really need a law to guard against cold bathroom seats? I am not advocating for that either, but a law, really? In Isesaki, Japan there is a bureaucratic ban on facial hair for municipal employees as a handful of citizens complained it was ‘distracting”. So, highly qualified applicants with a moustache need to shave or pursue other careers.
In Portugal, some politician pandering to the crowd decided that it was a great idea to pass a law making termination illegal. While I am sure there may be some exceptions to that rule, as I understand the law, an employer has to ask a person to leave and offer them severance, and if they say no, organizations have to keep them.
Oh, good because that wouldn’t be at all awkward.
For our friends from the U.K., there is less sympathy for the worker (who can get fired). However, since July 2013 under U.K. law, if an employee wants to sue an employer, they have to fork over a £1,200 pound payment to file the suit. The Artful Dodger must be greatly relieved as Oliver Twist doesn’t have that kind of money even on a good day of pickpocketing.
Back to my local dilemma and our local ordinance promoted by politicians, most of whom have no idea how the real world works. They don’t understand that salary history also tells a recruiter about a candidate’s choices in life, their competency at their jobs, and their level of personal ambition. No, Mr. Mayor, not everyone is the same and needs to be treated the same. A number of local corporations are threatening to file suit against the city and one senior executive in a technology company with tens of thousands local employees confided to me that they will just move across the river to New Jersey. Ultimately, this kind of “stupid” kills economic growth rather than solving the equality problem. Or employers may just offer everyone the bottom of the salary range as I suggested above and the least competent or most desperate will accept driving wages and productivity down.
But when you are really, really, really stupid, you may not recognize these possible outcomes or worse, you may not worry about them because after all, as a government-employed political executive or legislator, it won’t cost you your job anyway.
Elliot H. Clark