Blanchard & Walker Weekly

Topic of the Week  Pay or Compensation Discrimination

  • What is pay or compensation discrimination?
  • Can an employer pay me less because I'm a woman? Can I be paid less because I'm a man?
  • Is it illegal to give different benefits to male and female employees?

What is pay or compensation discrimination?

Pay/compensation discrimination occurs when employees performing substantially equal work do not receive the same pay for their work. It is job content and not job titles that determine whether or not jobs are substantially equal. Federal law looks to see that individuals performing jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, responsibility, and under similar working conditions are compensated equally for their time. Discrimination can occur due to sex or race, which are both prohibited under federal law. All forms of pay are covered by the law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits.

For example, in 2017, women earned 82% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers in the United States. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 47 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2017.

Can an employer pay me less because I'm a woman? Can I be paid less because I'm a man?

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII make it illegal to discriminate based on sex in the payment of wages or benefits. A more detailed explanation of the protections provided under the law can be found in the answers to question 1 and 2.

Note that:

  • Employers may not reduce wages of either sex to equalize pay between men and women.
  • A violation of the EPA may occur where a different wage is or was paid to a person who worked in the same job before or after an employee of the opposite sex.

While there are some differences between Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, these federal laws are enforced by the same administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Is it illegal to give different benefits to male and female employees?

Employers are not allowed to condition benefits available to employees and their spouses and families on whether the employee is the “head of the household” or “principal wage earner” in the family unit, since that status bears no relationship to job performance and discriminatorily affects the rights of female employees.

An employer cannot make benefits available:

  • for the wives and families of male employees where the same benefits are not made available for the husbands and families of female employees;
  • for the wives of male employees which are not made available for female employees; or
  • for the husbands of female employees which are not made available for male employees.

It is also against the law for an employer to have a pension or retirement plan which establishes different optional or compulsory retirement ages based on sex, or which differentiates in benefits based on sex.

Thought of the Week

"We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn't a reality yet. Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change."

–Beyoncé, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from Pay Scale

    The State of Gender Pay Gap 2019

    • Men and women with the same employment characteristics do similar jobs, women earn $0.98 for every dollar earned by an equivalent man.
    • Women who identify as a member of these races earn roughly $0.74 for every dollar a White man earns.
    • By late career (age 45+), 57 percent of men are managers or higher, while only 41 percent of women reach this level.

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