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Equal Pay Act for Employers: 3 Reminders

As an employer, knowing the Equal Pay Act of 1963 is essential to having a wage policy within the boundaries of the law.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, the Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. It applies both to public and private employers.

Here are three reminders about the Equal Pay Act that every employer should keep in mind:

1. The EPA Prohibits Sex-Based Wage Discrimination.

An EPA violation occurs when:

  • Men and women,
  • Who perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions,
  • Are paid a different amount.

The jobs don't have to be identical, but need to be substantially the same. Job descriptions and titles are irrelevant; what counts is the actual work being done.

If the jobs aren't substantially the same, then that may be a valid reason for a pay difference. That being said, if the jobs are different because of gender (i.e., one employee is receiving extra duties because of his or her gender), then the other employee may be able to sue under the EPA.

The EPA only requires that employees be paid wages at the same rate. That means the total compensation may be different based on productivity or quality of work.

2. The EPA Prohibits Both Willful and Non-Willful Violations.

Once the employee who files an EPA claim proves his or her case, the burden then shifts to the employer to disprove it. To disprove the elements, the employer must show a reason for the pay difference that is not gender-based.

Gender-neutral reasons that might result in a pay difference include:

  • A seniority system,
  • A merit system, or
  • A system which measures quantity or quality of work.

But be careful of a seemingly gender-neutral system that has the effect of building a "maternal wall" -- discriminating against hiring or promoting mothers based on the assumption that her job isn't her top priority, according to NPR.

Being reluctant to provide training to a woman in her childbearing years because you're worried she'll quit to start a family is an absolute no-no.

Also, if your wage rate is based on how much time an employee spends at work, it might have a de facto motherhood penalty for moms who have to leave work for childcare reasons. That could be deemed a non-willful EPA violation. Remember, the aggregate amount can be different, but not the rate.

3. The EPA Covers Benefits Too.

What many employers don't realize is that the EPA also requires equal distribution of employment benefits such as health insurance, pensions, flex spending accounts, vacation time, bonuses, and any other fringe benefits.

To learn more about the Equal Pay Act or gender discrimination in the workplace, it could be helpful to speak to an experienced employment law attorney in your area.

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