Labor Dept. pitches updated sex discrimination regs

The Labor Department is considering updating the rules federal contractors and subcontractors have to follow to ensure their workplace is free from discrimination based on sex. 

The agency wants to omit certain guidelines that are outdated. One, for example, now says it's illegal for job advertisements in the newspaper and other media to express a sex preference, unless sex is a “bona fide” occupational qualification for the job. The public is being asked to weigh in whether that provision is still useful. 

“The existing guidelines are extremely outdated and therefore do not provide sufficient or even accurate guidance to contractors regarding their nondiscrimination obligation,” the department said in its rule-making

With an estimated 30 million women working for federal contractors, the rule aims to make men and women more equal in the workplace. It would require federal contractors and subcontractors to offer employees the same child care leave available for mothers to fathers and offer the same retirement benefits, even if it’s more costly for one sex. 

The agency said it was not uncommon in 1970, when the rules were adopted, for employers to require women employees to retire at an earlier age than men. 

In clarifying that discrimination against individuals based on his or her gender is illegal, the rule also prohibits contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against transgender employees. 

Though there have been policy changes and legal challenges over the years to better protect women, the department says discrimination in the workplace still exists. 

The Labor Department said women are underrepresented in higher-level or more senior jobs. In 2013, women held 38 percent of all manager positions and earned 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. 

Though there’s been real progress, the Department of Labor said it’s been more than 50 years since the Equal Pay Act. 

“The size of the gap is still unacceptable,” the agency said in its rule-making. “At the current rate of progress, researchers estimate it will take until 2057 to close the gender pay gap.”

The public has 60 days to comment.