Equal pay for equal work … it’s a concept that has long been disputed in American employment law. Did you know that it wasn’t started by women advocating for equal pay, but by unions fighting for equal wages for men? When soldiers went off to fight World War II and women worked their jobs to keep the U.S. economy functioning, the National War Labor Board urged employers to pay women the same wages as their male counterparts. Because, however, most companies did not heed this advice, men returning from war worried that their jobs would be permanently taken by the cheaper women’s labor force. In response, unions stepped in to try to stop employers from undercutting men’s wages. The concept of equal pay grew out of these circumstances, and has since been equated to lower wages paid to women. What ensued after a decades-long fight was the Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed into the nation’s employment laws by President John F. Kennedy.
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires that all employees, regardless of gender, are given ‘equal pay for equal work.’ When the law was originally drafted, it called for equal pay for ‘comparable work,’ but the phrasing was eventually changed to ‘equal work.’ The distinction was made that equal work did not necessarily mean identical work, but jobs that are comparable to each other in quantity and quality. This change in the wording of this employment law found both proponents and opponents agreeing to its enactment. EPA amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was enacted in 1938. FLSA was an effective employment law because it established a maximum 44-hour day in a 7-day work week and a national minimum wage. It also guaranteed time-and-a-half for overtime. Proponents of equal pay, however, argued that FLSA did not go far enough in closing the gap of unequal wages paid to women in relation to their male counterparts in comparable jobs. As part of his ‘New Frontier Program’ to boost the American economy, President Kennedy signed EPA on June 10, 1963.
In EPA, Congress purports that sex discrimination in the workplace constitutes an unfair method of competition that can cause a number of consequences among the American workforce. These include depressing wages and living standards that are necessary for employee health and efficiency; preventing maximum use of labor resources; burdening commerce and the free flow of goods; and causing labor disputes that can burden and obstruct commerce. This very important employment law provides that no employer shall discriminate between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages at a rate less than the rate paid to employees of the opposite sex in a job, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. The EPA does, however, provide for exceptions to paying equal pay for comparable work. These include: (i) a merit system; (ii) a seniority system; (iii) a system that measures earnings by quality or quantity of production; and (iv) a differential based on any factor other than gender.
Many proponents of this and other statutes in U.S. employment laws believe EPA still does not go far enough in supporting equal pay for equal work. Since its enactment in 1963, employment attorneys have represented workers in thousands of cases involving sex discrimination leading to lower pay, mostly for female employees. Employment lawyers have stepped up to play a vital role in protecting the employer-employee relationship in the American workforce. Employment laws that govern the legal rights of, and restrictions on, the labor force are a vast and complex part of the American justice system. Because, however, employers typically have their own employment attorneys, often entire departments for the sole purpose of protecting their rights, employees must also enlist their own employment lawyers to represent and protect their interests.
It is very important that employees become informed about EPA and other discrimination laws in order to be as aware as possible of their rights and responsibilities in performing their jobs. As the American workforce is an ever-changing, ever-expanding and diversifying part of the nation’s economy, knowing your rights in the workplace is not just a guideline, but a necessity. As the concept of workplace rights moves to the forefront of the concerns of the employer-employee relationship, and as advocates of equal pay seek to broaden the definitions provided in EPA, apprising yourself of your workplace rights is more beneficial now than ever.
Of course, while it pays to familiarize yourself with U.S.employment laws, the many regulations, precedents, and provisions of such laws continue to grow in response to the changes happening constantly in the U.S.economy and workforce. Employment attorneys are educated experts trained to navigate American employment laws. They are the backbone of a system that exists for the sole purpose of protecting the employer-employee relationship. If you suspect that your rights under the Equal Pay Act, or any other discrimination law, have been violated by your employer, contact a qualified employment attorney in your area.