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All About Compensation Discrimination

Earlier this month, five of the members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team made headlines when they filed a wage discrimination complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Their complaint, filed on behalf of the entire women’s national team, alleges that they are paid considerably less than the members of the U.S. men’s national team, despite the fact that the women’s team is currently ranked as the No. 1 team worldwide by FIFA.  (The men’s team is currently ranked No. 29.)  This complaint has brought the issues of compensation discrimination to the forefront of the employment discrimination discussion.

Compensation Discrimination

There are a number of federal laws that protect workers against compensation discrimination, including the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 (ADEA) and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), all of which are enforced by the EEOC.

All types of discrimination are covered under these laws, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, travel allowances and reimbursements, and other benefits.

The Equal Pay Act, requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment.  While the jobs men and women perform don’t need to be identical to qualify for protection under the EPA, they must be substantially equal in terms of the job’s content, the skill and effort required to perform the job, and the responsibility the job entails.  The job must also be performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment.  (Just because the positions have the same title does not guarantee that they consist of the same job content.)

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Pay differentials are allowed, however, when they are primarily based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or on another factor besides sex.  The burden to prove that a pay differential is based on one of this factors rests solely on the employer.

What can employers do to ensure they are not found guilty of employment discrimination?

Below are a few of the steps employers can to protect themselves from discrimination claims:

  • Audit HR policies and procedures to uncover any problematic situations and practices.
  • Include a clear anti-retaliation policy that includes specific examples of what management can and cannot do when disciplining or terminating employees in the organization’s employee handbook.
  • Provide training to management and employees on anti-retaliation and other discrimination policies.
  • Implement a user-friendly internal complaint procedure for employees.
  • Uphold a standard of workplace civility, which can reduce retaliatory behaviors.
  • Engage an HR outsourcing partner to help navigate the complexities of labor law compliance.

This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

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