NEW ORLEANS — It's "an interesting moment" to consider pay data collection, remarked U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows at a conference last week.
The Commission has faced a series of setbacks and challenges in implementing the collection of pay data in its EEO-1 reporting requirements for employers. It recently announced it will not collect the data after this current cycle.
It's one of the agency's six national priorities to prevent and address pay gaps. But that's a complicated task, Burrows noted at the American Bar Association's 13th Annual National Employment Law Conference. "A lot of these cases are things that, as an enforcement agency, we find by accident," she said. "Pay discrimination is hard to fix because it's hard to find." That doesn't decrease the importance of eliminating pay discrimination. Even small unjustified pay gaps can cost a person a significant amount of money across the span of a career, Burrows explained. "We have an obligation at the commission to figure out how we address that," she said. "That's why it's a priority."
With that goal in mind, the EEOC introduced pay data collection, which she said will be "very useful to the agency" once it has all the data. "I'm hopeful we will be able to use this in several ways," she said. "We don't reveal specifics about [the data] but we do have the opportunity to take it and use it in ways that are helpful."
This moment has yet to arrive, despite the long and somewhat tumultuous journey it's already taken. During the Obama administration, EEOC decided it would add a component to its EEO-1 forms, which employers had already been submitting every year to disclose data on their workforce demographics. The new component, Component 2, would obligate employers to report pay data.
It's been a rocky road for Component 2. Under the Trump administration, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) blocked Component 2, after which the National Women's Law Center sued OMB and EEOC, leading to the reinstatement of Component 2 reporting. Although EEOC launched Component 2 collection in 2017 and 2018, it will not renew its request for the 2019 calendar year.
The data collection has endured practical challenges, as well. EEOC extended employers' deadline for EEO-1 reporting over concerns from its chief data officer, who said the agency's data processes could not collect the Component 2 data. "Instead, the EEOC has determined that utilizing a data and analytics contractor is the only alternative," the agency said in a brief.
The challenges with Component 2 may not resolve themselves anytime soon. Even if EEOC resumes collecting the data after 2019, employers may continue to face obstacles in their reporting. "I think we're going to struggle again to find a way to get data that was meaningful and helpful to us without being over burdening," Burrows said.