No, it’s not just the day before Tax Day. Interestingly enough, today is another day with relevance to HR. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, April 14th is called “Equal Pay Day” in order to raise public awareness around the importance of compensation equity in the workplace.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 women who were full-time workers had median weekly earnings of $706, which is about 82 percent of the median weekly earnings of male full-time workers ($860). While certain stakeholders might disagree, the question is whether this wage difference between women and men is attributable to discrimination, legitimate pay practices or other dynamics.
HR professionals work tirelessly to ensure compliance with the two key federal statutes that prevent gender-based wage discrimination: The Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Under current law, depending on merit and seniority, jobs that have the same functions and similar working conditions and that require substantially the same skills must be compensated equally.
HR professionals and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) strongly support equal pay for equal work and believe that any misconduct against an employee should be promptly and fully rectified.
Currently, the Equal Pay Act, which covers most employers, allows employers to pay workers of one sex at a higher rate than workers of the opposite sex. These factors include: seniority, merit, production, or “any other factor than sex” which encompasses other legitimate factors an employer utilizes. Currently, if an employer is found to have violated the EPA, an employer can be ordered to pay back wages, pay liquidated damages, and pay employee’s attorney fees.
Legislative responses to the wage difference have not adequately addressed the issue. Last year, legislation that would restrict employers’ pay practices failed to advance twice in the U.S. Senate. While well intentioned, this legislation would limit employer flexibility to reward employees using legitimate pay practices such as an employee’s prior salary history or the company’s profitability.
On this year’s Equal Pay Day, it is important that HR professionals work to ensure compliance and promote effective workplaces. Employers should continue to pursue effective pay practices, including clear compensation policies that help employees understand how their pay is decided. Salary negotiation training is another area that many in the workforce could possibly benefit from.