Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) announced an equal pay policy on her campaign website that she claimed is the "most aggressive" in history.
"It's not right that young women need to work more hours to pay off their student debt," the campaign's announcement said. "It's not right that new mothers are penalized for taking time off to care for their children. It's not right that women retirees have less security and accumulated wealth after working their entire careers. ... It's not right, and it needs to change."
Paying equally qualified men and women at different rates for the same job has been illegal for well over 50 years now. Harris' plan seeks to place the enforcement burden for the law on employers instead.
"Pay women fairly or pay the price," Harris' campaign site tells employers. The key to making that happen would be a requirement that companies receive an "Equal Pay Certification."
In order to get the certification, companies would have to prove that pay disparities are based on "merit, performance, or seniority," rather than sex. They would also have to disclose pay policies and align them with federal government regulations, disclose the number of women in leadership or top-earning positions, and disclose their gap and pay between men and women "regardless of job titles, experience, and performance."
Companies that don't meet the certification standards would face daily fines until they became equal-pay compliant.
And while a hypothetical President Harris would have to wait for Congress to turn this plan into reality in federal law, the campaign statement said she would begin enforcing the idea by making Equal Pay Certification a requirement for all federal contractors.
While its existence is accepted as an unquestionable truth among Democratic politicians (and was the subject of a major Democratic-led bill in the House earlier this year), critics argue that the disparity between overall male and female compensation statistics is not a matter of widespread discrimination but of how men and women tend to approach their careers.
A 2018 Harvard University study found that a wage gap between equally qualified men and women "can be explained entirely by the fact that, while having the same choice sets in the workplace, women and men make different choices."
"The reality is that men and women make very different career and work choices, and frequently play very different family roles, especially for families with children," economic scholars Mark Perry and Andrew Biggs explained. "While gender discrimination undoubtedly occurs, it is individuals' choice — not discrimination — which accounts for the vast majority of gender differences in earnings."