Question: “I’m confused. I’m hearing and reading a lot about the issue of “equal pay for equal work,” especially in this 2016 political season. I thought we already had an equal pay law that protects females?”
Answer: We do! It’s called the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and was intended primarily to protect females in the workplace from pay discrimination, although fifty one years later, it is also protecting males who work in female dominated occupations. Briefly, it says that a man and a woman must be paid equally if they hold the same job, unless one or more of four “exceptions” apply:
1) Meritorious performance (e.g. the male has higher performance ratings, and therefore is paid more)
2) A formal incentive plan (e.g. the male performs at a higher level than the female and receives higher incentive plan payments. This must be a documented incentive plan.)
3) Seniority (e.g. the male has been in the company longer than the female.)
4) Any factor other than gender (e.g. such as a shift differential, or any reason that is not gender based.)
These exceptions are also known as the four “Employer Defenses” because they are what employers use to defend themselves from accusations of pay discrimination when they pay males and females differently. The Bennett Amendment of 1964 was created to extend these four defenses for use by employers to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which also protects employee compensation from discriminatory practices.
The current issue prominent in today’s media is about the “Gender Pay Gap.” For quite some time, the average female pay rate was 70% of the average male pay rate. Due to the effects of the Great Recession, this percentage is closer to 80%. This is viewed by politicians and others as being an inequity in the workplace that needs to be addressed. However, as one might imagine, these average pay rates are affected by many factors, including the nature of occupations, the amount of time one spends in the workforce, full time and part time schedules, performance, and others.
The Equal Pay Act is just one law in a fine collection of anti-discrimination laws that serve to protect people in the U. S. workplace, and of which we can be proud.