What is Equal Pay for Equal Work?

October 3, 2013

“Equal pay for equal work.” It’s a phrase you hear all the time. But what does it mean? It can refer either to wage-based discrimination or the violation of contract terms requiring pay parity among certain classes of employees.

Equal Pay Act

The most common meaning of the phrase refers to the Equal Pay Act, a law that requires employers to men and women of equal skill and positions the same wages and benefits. Back in 1963, Congress found that wage discrimination based on sex depresses wages and living standards for employees, prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources, causes labor disputes, burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce, and constitutes unfair competition. These findings are as true today as they were in the 1960s. Women continue to earn far less than men for the same work. A recent study highlighted in the Wall Street Journal found that women earn 76 ½ cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

The basic premise of the law is that an employer must pay men and women the same salary, including benefits, so long as they perform work that requires the same skill, effort and responsibilities. Therefore, two executives performing similar work with similar responsibilities and skill, must be paid the same. It is no defense that one of the employees is a better negotiator when being hired. The only basis for paying members of one sex less than the other are when the pay difference is based on (1) seniority, (2) a merit system, (3) a system in which earnings are determined by quantity or quality of production, or (4) some objective basis that is not based on sex. Unlike other anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII, the burden of justifying the difference in pay rests with the employer, not the employee. This can make a big difference in deciding whether to pursue a claim.

More information about pay discrimination can be found on the EEOC’s fact sheet.

Pay Parity in a Contract

There are also other areas where equal pay can be mandated, such as an employment contract. These situations most often arises under labor agreements or government sponsored civil service systems. If an employer promises you that your pay will be the same as those performing similar tasks, then you may enforce that agreement. If a government employer creates policies mandating that employees performing tasks shall be paid according to specific pay classifications, then they can be held to that promise.

Parks, Chesin & Walbert recently obtained a multi-million dollar arbitration award against Fulton County for its failure to pay certain employees according to their legal classifications.

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