Overview: Under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) as well as state and local fair pay laws, men and women are required to receive equal pay for equal work. Generally, the jobs do not have to be identical, but need to be substantially equal in terms of skill, effort and job responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions. The term pay pertains to not just salary, but also overtime, bonuses, vacation and holiday pay, stock options, life insurance and all other benefits and compensation of any kind paid to employees. Employers can defend a claim of wage discrimination under a seniority system, merit system, a system measuring earnings by quality or quantity of production or if wages were set based on a factor other than sex. Title VII further prohibits wage discrimination.
Trends:The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is committed to eradicating wage discrimination, increasing pay transparency and enforcing equal pay laws and it has identified these efforts as a priority in its Strategic Enforcement Plans.
At the state and local level, there also is a renewed focus on equal pay laws. Some wage discrimination laws expand the classes protected while others seek to achieve pay transparency by prohibiting employers from banning employees from discussing their salaries with each other. Several states and municipalities have enacted laws prohibiting an employer from asking prospective employees about prior salary history or wages, as this may perpetuate an existing wage gap.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
Updated to reflect forthcoming law prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle.
Updated to reflect Cincinnati ordinance regarding salary history inquiries, effective March 13, 2020.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that prior salary history may not be used to justify paying women a lower salary than men.
Updated to reflect amendments to Oregon equal pay law, effective January 1, 2020.
Many notable employment law developments recently took effect in Maine, including new wage theft and noncompete agreement laws, new pregnancy accommodation requirements and more.
Updated to include law regarding wage history inquiries, effective September 1, 2019.
HR Guidance on developing policies and practices to eliminate pay discrimination.