THE BLOG
01/20/2017 05:29 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2018

Here are 7 Concrete Steps Congress Could Take to Make Women's Lives Better at Work

Women are marching and they are upset. For lawmakers who wants to get right with this large group of voters, here are seven concrete things they could do.

1. Pass a real national paid leave law.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did not agree on much during the presidential campaign, but they did agree that it is time for national paid leave. The United States is one of only a handful of countries that provides no paid leave. This is bad for families and bad for business. The job of caregiving, whether it be for aging parents or children, still disproportionately falls on women. If you are a federal lawmaker, you need to make sure that the Trump Administration passes family leave that is sufficiently broad to protect American families. The plans outlined by Trump during his campaign initially only applied to women, and Republicans--to the extent they have supported family leave at all--have favored tax incentives. These are only pieces to an incomplete puzzle. Paid leave needs to apply to men as well as women. While tax incentives can be one tool, it is insufficient as a standalone solution because it leaves out low-income workers who may pay little tax. The need for paid leave is the greatest among this population.

2. Support equal pay for equal work.

Even when working in the same industry as men, women continue to experience an unjustifiable pay gap. For instance, female doctors as a rule make less than male doctors. Yet a recent study found that older patients lived longer when treated by a female rather than a male doctor. It makes no sense for these women to be paid less for providing equal or perhaps even better outcomes. A solution to this, make large employers report wages by sex to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This data would be easy to collect. Sunshine can be a powerful disinfectant for this kind of problem. Making this kind of data public would aid women who have to resort to a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act. Pointing to a systemic pay gap makes it easier for an employee to show that the pay gap between herself and a man doing the same work is due to sex discrimination, rather than--as many companies like to argue--some other factor, unrelated to sex.

3. Support minimum wage increases and fair rules for overtime pay.

The federal minimum wage is insufficient to support a working family. An increase in the minimum wage would help families, particularly those headed by single parents, who are primarily women. Overtime rules have not been updated since 1973. This all adds up to more people--including more women--working longer hours for less. This exacerbates the problem in a country without a comprehensive paid leave law or affordable child care system. Paying employees a real wage would go a long way to help solve that. Under President Obama, the Department of Labor updated overtime laws so that many more Americans would be covered. American businesses are prepared to comply with this law; the training programs are already in place. All lawmakers have to do is keep these overtime rules in place and pass a living wage, something supported by the majority of Americans.

4. Pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

More women are staying in the workforce and those that get pregnant are staying longer into their pregnancies. Some pregnant workers need very basic changes to their workplace to allow them to keep working, changes like carrying around a bottle of water or getting help lifting heavy packages. Sadly, some workplaces refuse these changes. The Supreme Court's decision in Young v UPS clarified that in some circumstances employers must provide these changes. But this decision does not cover all women as it only applies to mostly large employers who offer light-duty accommodations to other workers. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would fix that. The law would allow pregnant women to stay in the workplace where they can get the salary and benefits that they need and deserve. All lawmakers have to do is pass it.

5. Appoint judges who will allow for more jury trials.

There are civil rights laws that make it unlawful to discriminate against women or pay them less simply because of their gender. But they don't work if judges kick cases out of court before they can ever get to a jury. A rule of civil procedure in most courts--called summary judgment--allows judges to dismiss weak cases. This is an appropriate and useful tool when used correctly. But judges have abused this tool as a means to clear busy court dockets or, even worse, because of an ideological bias against individuals who sue companies. The solution, use summary judgment to clear out obviously weak cases, but let others, even close calls, go to a jury. That is the way the law is supposed to work. And juries are the most direct form of democracy--a small group of individuals deciding issues of importance. Lawmakers should appoint judges that share this viewpoint that be shared by "liberal" and "conservative" judges.

6. Support unions.

Unions provide bargaining power to workers, particularly those, like service employees, who individually lack the leverage to negotiate working conditions with large companies. Unionized workers are more likely to get a fair wage and have real benefits, issues important to women and men. Lawmakers should support, not fight, unions.

7. Support protections for the 'gig economy' workers.

Increasingly workers are working as their own bosses by either working an independent contractor or in industries that allow work on demand--the car service Uber being  a prime example. These positions are particularly important for women (and men) who need a flexible schedule due to caregiver responsibilities. Drop the kids off at school, drive for Uber or work as a carpenter taking assignments through TaskRabbit, then be home to meet the kids at the bus. While these jobs offer tremendous opportunities for workers, they leave many out in the cold when it comes to anti-discrimination laws, ability to secure benefits, and other protections that usually come with full-time work. This needs to change. There have been some steps taken to address these issues. For instance, the EEOC recently took the position that federal anti-discrimination applies to those some jobs in the gig economy. Efforts have been underway in California and New York to allow gig workers to unionize. Lawmakers need to support creative solutions to provide workers with real protections in this rapidly growing segment of the economy.

Women are playing a larger role in a rapidly changing workforce, yet they are continually hampered by the issues discussed above. This clearly hurts individuals in the workplace--both men and women--but it also hurts businesses which are unable to reap the full benefits of a stable and committed workforce. Individual business cannot alone solve these national issues. By providing legislative solutions, lawmakers can strengthen our families and our workforce.

Tom Spiggle is author of the book "You're Pregnant? You're Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace." He is founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, which has offices in Arlington, Va., Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., where he focuses on workplace law helping protect the rights of clients facing sexual harassment in the workplace and wrongful termination. To learn more, visit: www.spigglelaw.com