Equal Pay for Equal Work

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

Business people walking on city street
••• Rosa Images / Getty Images

A man and a woman who work for the same company, are equally skilled and have the same responsibilities should have equal pay, right? It sounds like common sense, particularly in the 21st century. Not everyone agrees with this, so we have a law in place to help ensure there is equal pay for equal work.

What is the equal pay act?

The Equal Pay Act of 1963, an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), prohibits employers from paying unequal wages, based on gender. Men and women employed in the same establishment, doing substantially equal work must be paid the same wages. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act are other laws that protect employees from compensation discrimination.

What is "substantially equal work?"

Let's look at an example of what the law would consider substantially equal work:

Erica and Eric started work at an accounting firm on the same day. They are both recent college graduates with similar skills and experience. Their jobs are essentially the same and neither is responsible for supervising other workers. They are both based in the main office of the firm, but each travels around the country to clients' offices. The firm that employs Erica and Eric must pay them equal salaries because the work they are doing is considered, under the Equal Pay Act, "substantially equal work."

When is unequal pay okay?

In what situations would Erica's and Eric's employer not be required to pay them equally? Their employer could give Eric and Erica unequal pay if their jobs are not substantially equal for reasons including, effort and skill required to do the job, responsibility, and working conditions. If two employees do not work in the same location, their jobs are generally not considered substantially equal, although there are exceptions to this rule. Some locations, though physically separate, count as part of the same establishment and therefore are considered substantially equal.

Other factors that would allow for unequal pay include differences in seniority, quality or quantity of work or merit. Here are some situations in which Erica's and Eric's employer would not have to pay them equally:

  • If Erica had more experience or a higher educational degree than Eric, their employer would not have to give them equal wages. Their jobs would not be considered substantially equal because they have different levels of education or experience.
  • Their employer could pay Eric a higher wage if Erica works in Bismark, North Dakota and Eric works in New York City. An employee must generally work in the same establishment for them to be considered to have substantially equal jobs.
  • If Erica supervises other employees but Eric does not, their employer could pay Erica at a higher rate of pay. Erica has significantly more responsibility than Eric does and therefore their jobs cannot be considered substantially equal.
  • If Eric must travel from job site to job site every day, while Erica's job allows her to work in the home office every day, their jobs differ substantially and Eric may receive a higher salary.
  • If Eric began working at the accounting firm a significant amount of time before Erica did, the employer could pay him a higher salary, based on his seniority.

What to do if your boss fails to abide by the equal pay act?

Employers do not always abide by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 or by the other laws that require equal pay for equal work. In Fiscal Year 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 942 complaints about wage discrimination, which included accusations of employers violating the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (Equal Pay Act Charges: FY 1997 through FY 2009. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

If you experience compensation discrimination at work or in the hiring process go to the EEOC Web Site and read the rules for Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination.

Source: Equal Pay Act of 1963. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.