Equal pay for women has been an issue for many years. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was enacted to ensure that men and women who did the same job at the same place of business and had the same experience would receive the same amount of pay. If a discrepancy in pay was found, the lower paying employee, presumably the woman, would receive an increase in pay, rather than the man’s pay being reduced. The act allowed a woman to receive up to three years in back pay, or double that amount if it was discovered that she had been willfully discriminated against in her pay. The slogan for the act was “equal pay for equal work.”
People disagree on whether or not the Equal Pay Act has been affective in ensuring women receive equal pay. Those who feel it has not been affective are promoting a new bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act. This new act adds on to the Equal Pay Act in the following ways:
Clarifies what reasons are acceptable for pay differences between men and women;
allows wages to be compared within certain geographical areas to determine fairness;
makes retaliating against an employee for investigating wage differences prohibited;
increases amount and type of damages that can be requested to both compensate the employee and penalize the employer;
includes small businesses in the law rather than requiring an employer to have a larger number of employees for the law to apply;
provides funds for training EEOC staff regarding pay disputes and for educating women on how to negotiate a salary;
requires federal contractors to provide employment data regarding hiring and salaries to help the Labor Department enforce the Equal Pay Act.
Proponents of the bill say all of these factors would add up to women receiving equal pay in the workplace because it would facilitate investigating the wage gap, protect those who raise the question of unequal pay, impose stiffer penalties for pay discrimination by employers and provide training to those who need it.
Opponents of the bill, including many women, believe otherwise. They argue that the new bill is not necessary and may actually hurt women rather than help them. Many men and women feel that women’s salaries are lower because of the choices they make. Women tend to take more leave from work than men, so they actually have less seniority based on actual time in the workforce. Women also tend to request more flexible work hours and are not interested in working extended hours or traveling for business. Their opinion is that the Fair Paycheck Act might actually cause more women to be unemployed or unable to find different jobs. Because companies would be so focused on keeping wages equal for everyone, the flexibility of working part-time, having a flexible schedule or working partially from home – all options that are appealing to many women with families – may no longer be offered. Companies may also avoid hiring women because of the fear they may be sued by a woman for unequal pay and end up paying large amounts in damages since there is no cap on the amount of damages that could be awarded in a lawsuit.
It will be interesting to see in the upcoming months what Congress decides to do with this bill and what effect it will actually have on women in the workplace if it passes. If you have any questions regarding this bill or need help with an employment matter, please contact the Kentucky employment attorneys at Miller & Falkner. They have offices in Louisville, Kentucky and serve employees throughout Kentucky and Indiana.
Paycheck Fairness Act Will Hurt Women; U.S. News; Sabrina Schaeffer; May 4, 2012
5 Real Things You Should Know about the Paycheck Fairness Act; freedomworks.org; Julie Borowski; May 25, 2012
The Paycheck Fairness Act: The Next Step in the Fight for Fair Pay; National Organization for Women