Mark and Michelle are hired at the same time, by the same law firm in the same city, to do the same job. They are both third-year associate attorneys; they went to the same law school; they graduated with the same GPA; and they have the same skill set and job experience. Now, let’s assume the law firm, their new employer, offers them two different salaries. Mark is offered $10,000 a year more than Michelle.
What is your first reaction to this set of facts? Let me just tell you. I read that paragraph and immediately got hot and bothered. How can it ever be ok to pay a woman less than a man – to do the same job, with the same education, skill set, and experience?
Well, interestingly enough – there are a few circumstances where it is ok, under federal law, to pay women and men different pay rates for the same work.
Equal Pay Act of 1963
The federal law that governs equal pay is fittingly called the Equal Pay Act. The EPA makes it illegal for an employer to pay different wages to to employees of the opposite sex for equal work on jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibility and are performed under similar working conditions. Although the EPA was enacted to redress wage discrimination against women, the act protects men as well as women from wage discrimination based on sex.
That being said, the EPA provides four exceptions to the general rule. Employers can pay men and women different rates for substantially equal work if the disparity is justified by:
- a seniority system;
- a merit pay system;
- a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
- a differential based on any factor other than sex.
Can Employers Use Prior Salary to Justify Wage Disparity?