Women who become aware that they have been paid less for doing the same work as male co-workers may be curious about what remedies the law can provide. Fortunately, the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) was enacted in 1963 as an amendment to the existing Fair Labor Standards Act and requires employers to compensate males and females equally if they perform the same work. The statute was passed primarily to address wage disparities that harmed women, thought it could also be used by men who have suffered discrimination in their rate of pay.
Whereas many employee protection laws only pertain to certain sizes and classes of employers, the Equal Pay Act protects almost all workers, regardless of whether they work for state, federal and local governments or just about any type of private employer. This should come as welcome news to women who may have believed that their place of employment might have somehow been exempt.
How to Successfully Pursue Claims Under the EPA
Successful claims under the Equal Pay Act must meet several factual criteria. If you wish to prevail on such a claim, you will need to demonstrate that you and another employee of the opposite gender:
- are working in the same location
- perform the same work
- are paid at unequal rates
It is important to bear in mind, however, that if your employer is able to demonstrate that the difference in your pay stems from legitimate reasons, your claim will be unsuccessful. Differences in experience or on-the-job seniority will often be deemed legitimate when it comes to assessing the merits of claims under the Equal Pay Act.
How “Equal Work” and “Equal Pay” Are Evaluated
For jobs to be deemed “equal” for purposes of the EPA, they need not be completely identical. When two employees actually perform the same tasks, the fact that they have different job descriptions or titles is irrelevant. Close cases typically involve situations in which two employees do jobs that are extremely similar, though one of the two does a few additional tasks as well. The bottom line, however, is that minor differences in the responsibility level, skills or effort required will not automatically render two jobs unequal.
The Equal Pay Act does require employers to pay employees the same rate for the same work, but that is not to say that employees must receive identical total compensation. One worker may legally earn more than a fellow worker simply because they are more productive, have made more sales or have in some other way achieved measurable outcomes greater than their co-worker. In addition to mandating equal pay, the EPA also requires that employees doing the same jobs be given equal benefits including health insurance, pensions, vacation time and profit sharing payments.
Fighting for Equal Pay and Equal Justice
Successful plaintiffs under the Equal Pay Act may be able to receive double the wages lost as a result of the employer’s discriminatory actions. For that reason, and because it is vital to hold employers accountable for paying all employees the wages they deserve, if you have been paid less than a co-worker of a different gender for doing the same job, a skilled employment attorney stands ready to help.