Do workplace gender pay disparities really still exist?

The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have prompted discussions and brought to the forefront all aspects of sexual harassment and treatment of women in the workplace.  Part of this focus has put light on a subject that may have improved some over the last several decades, but is still not where is needs to be: Gender pay discrepancies.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2014, on average, women earned 79 percent of men’s median annual income.  The National Committee on Pay Equity, which reports a comparable statistic for 2014, 78.6 percent, has been documenting pay inequality since 1960.  If we look back 50 years prior to the 79 percent statistic, we can see that the gap has shrunk significantly.  In 1964, women earned only 59.1 percent of what men earned.  However, if you compare 2009 and 2014, the 5-year span saw an increase of only 1.6 percent.  There’s quite a way to go to bridge the gap completely.

A recent Hollywood scenario put into perspective how everyone, no matter what your job is, can fall into this statistical gap.  In reshoots for the movie “All the Money in the World,” Mark Wahlberg was paid an additional $1.5 million, while his co-star, Michelle Williams was paid $80 per day for a total of less than $1,000.  An open letter published by the “Time’s Up” movement stated that “the systematic gender equality and imbalance of power” in the workplace “fosters an environment that is ripe for abuse and harassment against women.”

Now is the time to reflect on your own company’s pay practices to bring gender pay in line and protect your company against future claims.  It’s not only good practice, it’s the law.  The Equal Opportunities Commission (EEOC) requires that equal pay for men and women be established under the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  The Equal Pay Act restricts employers from paying unequal wages “to men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment.”

The EEOC looks at the following criteria to establish equal pay: Skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions, and establishment location (for example, when a company has several locations in different geographical areas, those can be considered separate establishments due to the area’s median income).  Differences in pay are only permitted based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or other factors not related to gender.  The EEOC also states that “It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on compensation or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII, ADEA, ADA or the Equal Pay Act.”

If pay differences do exist for similar positions regardless of whether women are paid less than men, or men paid less than women, it is best practice to establish from the hire date how the salary decision was made.  Be prepared to back up how your wage determination was made based on the criteria previously mentioned.  Encourage open dialogue with your employees if they have a perception that a gender pay gap exists.  BCN Services staff are prepared to guide you through this process.  Please contact your Partnership Manager with any questions or concerns regarding your employees’ wages.

 

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Frank Lewandowski, Benefits Program Manager