Everyone deserves to be paid fairly for their hard work, but for too many people, this is not a reality.
Workers across the United States are struggling with low wages, unequal pay, and a lack of transparency in the workplace, and this is having a serious impact on their lives.
Did you know that, according to a survey conducted by Indeed, only 30% of male employees and as little as 15% of female employees consider themselves paid fairly?
Unfair pay can have a serious impact on a person’s life, including:
- Decreased financial stability
- Decreased job satisfaction
- Widening the wealth gap
- Lack of opportunities for advancement
- Discriminatory practices, and more
In this article, we will explore the issue of fair pay in detail, including the laws and regulations that protect workers, the impact of unfair pay, and what employees and employers can do to ensure that all workers receive fair pay.
What is fair pay?
Fair pay refers to the idea that every worker should receive a wage or salary that corresponds to the value of their work, taking into account their experience, education, skills, and job responsibilities.
Fair pay is about ensuring that workers are compensated fairly for their contributions to the workplace and that they are not being underpaid or exploited.
The terms “fair pay,” “equal pay,” and “pay equity” are often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings.
- Equal pay refers to the idea that all people should receive the same pay for the same job. For example, this means that workers of different gender identities who perform the same job should receive the same pay, regardless of their gender identity. The same applies to workers of different races, sexual orientations, ages, cultural backgrounds, and more.
- Pay equity refers to the idea that workers should receive equal pay for work of equal value. This means that workers who perform jobs that are of equal value to the organization, regardless of their job title, should receive equal pay.
It is important to understand the difference between fair pay, equal pay, and pay equity because each of these concepts can have a different impact on a worker’s pay and compensation.
Why is it important to understand fair pay? There are several reasons:
- It helps to prevent exploitation: By understanding the concept of fair pay, workers can better identify and prevent exploitation in the workplace. This can help to protect workers from being taken advantage of and can ensure that they are being paid fairly for their work.
- It promotes equality: Understanding fair pay promotes equality in the workplace and reduces the gender pay gap and other forms of pay discrimination. This can create a more level playing field and can ensure that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.
- It boosts employee morale and productivity: When workers feel that they are being paid fairly, they are more likely to be satisfied with their job, motivated, and engaged. This can lead to increased productivity and can help to create a more positive work environment. In the same Indeed survey mentioned above, a whopping 81% of employees declared they were more productive and more loyal to their employers as a direct result of being paid fairly.
- It contributes to the overall economy: When workers are paid fairly, they are more likely to be financially stable, which can lead to increased spending and investment. This can have a positive impact on the overall economy and creates a more prosperous society.
The gender pay gap
The gender pay gap is a clear example of unfair pay.
Despite progress in recent years, women still earn significantly less than men in many industries.
According to data from the National Women’s Law Center, in 2022, women in the United States earned only 84 cents for every dollar earned by men.
This gap is even wider for women of color, with African American women earning just 67 cents and Latinas earning only 57 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
The gender pay gap can present itself in various ways. For example:
- Women may be paid less for doing the same job as their male colleagues, even if they have the same experience, education, and qualifications.
- Women may be more likely to be in low-paying jobs, or to be in jobs that are traditionally considered to be “women’s work.”
- Women may be more likely to be part-time workers, which can impact their pay and benefits.
- Women may be more likely to take time out of the workforce to care for children or other family members, which can impact their career progression and earning potential.
The gender pay gap is not only unfair, but it is also illegal.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires employers to provide equal pay to male and female employees who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment.
Despite this, the gender pay gap remains a persistent issue, and more work needs to be done to ensure that all workers receive fair pay.
The fight for fair pay
Establishing fair pay can be a challenging process, especially for employees.
Despite the existence of laws and regulations that protect employees’ rights to fair pay, there are still many obstacles that they may face.
Some of the challenges in the fight for fair pay include:
- Lack of transparency: Employees may not know what their colleagues are earning, making it difficult for them to determine if they are being paid fairly. This can be especially true in industries where pay is kept confidential or where there is a culture of secrecy around pay.
- Limited bargaining power: Employees may have limited bargaining power, especially if they are in a non-unionized workplace or if they are in a low-paying job. This can make it difficult for them to negotiate for fair pay.
- Unlawful retaliation: Employees may fear retaliation from their employers if they raise concerns about pay discrimination or negotiate for fair pay. This can include being fired, demoted, or having their hours reduced.
- Unfamiliarity with the law: Employees may not be familiar with the laws and regulations related to fair pay, making it difficult for them to know their rights and to take action if they are being paid unfairly.
The first step in overcoming these challenges is to educate yourself. By learning more about fair pay and the laws that protect employees’ rights to fair pay, you can be better equipped to advocate for yourself and to negotiate for fair pay.
Here are some details you need to know about fair pay and what’s legal and what isn’t.
Can an employee be paid differently for the same job?
One of the primary goals of fair pay is to ensure that employees who perform the same job receive the same pay, regardless of gender, race, or any other personal characteristic.
However, there are some circumstances where different pay is allowed.
Factors that determine the size of a paycheck
The size of an employee’s paycheck is influenced by several factors, including:
- Education and experience: An employee with a higher level of education or more years of experience may be paid more.
- Skill level and performance: An employee who has demonstrated exceptional skills or high performance in their job may be eligible for higher pay.
- Job responsibilities and duties: An employee with more responsibilities or a wider range of duties may receive higher pay.
- Availability and flexibility: An employee who is willing to work outside of normal working hours or be on call may receive higher pay.
- Location and cost of living in the area: An employee who works in an area with a higher cost of living may receive higher pay.
For example, a software engineer with a master’s degree and ten years of experience in a high-demand field may receive a higher salary than a software engineer with a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience.
Different pay for the same job is allowed in some circumstances, such as if the employer has different pay systems in place for different departments or if an employee has negotiated a higher salary based on their experience or education.
However, it is important to note that this type of different pay should not be based on discriminatory factors such as race, gender, age, or any other protected characteristic.
Different pay as a sign of discriminatory behavior
Discriminatory pay refers to situations where an employee is paid less because of their race, gender, age, or any other protected characteristic. There are several types of discriminatory pay, including:
- Wage discrimination: When an employee is paid less than others for the same job based on a discriminatory factor, such as their gender or race.
- Promotion discrimination: When an employee is passed over for a promotion or not given the same opportunities for advancement as others based on a discriminatory factor.
- Hourly pay discrimination: When an employee is paid less per hour than others for the same job based on a discriminatory factor.
- Benefits discrimination: When employees receive different benefits packages based on a discriminatory factor.
If you feel that you are being paid differently for the same job based on discriminatory factors, there are things you can do to improve your situation and get the compensation you deserve.
The road to fair pay
If you suspect that you’re being paid unfairly, it’s important to understand the steps you can take to address the issue.
Here’s a step-by-step process to help you assess your situation and determine if you’re being paid fairly:
- Gather information: Start by researching the average pay for your position in your industry and location. Consider factors such as experience, education, and skills that you bring to the table. Additionally, you may want to gather information about the pay of your coworkers, particularly those in similar positions to yours. (There is no law that can prevent you from talking about pay with your coworkers. In fact, your right to discuss pay is protected by law.)
- Collect evidence: Evidence of unfair pay can include pay stubs, W-2 forms, and other records of your pay and benefits. If you suspect that you’re being paid unfairly because of your gender, race, age, or other protected characteristics, keep records of any discriminatory comments or actions by your employer or coworkers.
- Evaluate the evidence: Look for patterns in your pay records, such as disparities in pay between you and your coworkers, or disparities between the pay of similarly qualified employees in different departments or with different job titles. If you suspect that you’re being paid unfairly because of a discriminatory factor, consider if the disparities are related to it.
What to do if you are being paid unfairly?
If you have determined that you are being paid unfairly, it’s time to take action.
The first step is to talk to your employer. This can be a difficult conversation, but it’s important to have it if you want to resolve the issue.
Here are the steps you can follow when talking to your employer:
- Schedule a meeting: Set up a meeting with your employer to discuss your concerns about your pay. Make sure to schedule it at a time that is convenient for both of you.
- Bring evidence: Take every piece of evidence you’ve collected with you. This will help support your case.
- Be clear and concise: During the meeting, explain your concerns clearly and concisely. Make sure to provide specific examples of how you believe your pay is unfair.
- Listen to your employer’s response: Give your employer the opportunity to respond to your concerns. Listen carefully to what they have to say and ask questions if you need clarification.
- Negotiate a resolution: If your employer agrees that there is an issue with your pay, work together to find a resolution. This may involve adjusting your pay, providing additional benefits, or finding a different role within the company that pays fairly.
If talking to your employer does not result in a resolution, there are additional steps you can take:
- File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The EEOC is a federal agency that investigates complaints of discrimination in the workplace, including pay discrimination.
- Contact a labor union: If you are a member of a labor union, your union can help you negotiate for fair pay.
- Consult a lawyer: If you believe that you are being paid unfairly as a result of discrimination, you may want to consider consulting a lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and guide you through the process of taking legal action.
Risks and benefits of speaking up about unfair pay
Many do not speak up about unfair pay because of the number of risks involved in doing so.
These risks may include:
- Loss of job or demotion
- Negative impact on professional reputation
- Strain in workplace relationships
- Potential financial consequences, such as a reduction in pay or loss of benefits
- Harassment or retaliation by the employer
- Legal fees associated with pursuing a claim
- Time and emotional stress associated with navigating the legal process
- Difficulty in finding alternative employment due to disclosure of the issue
- Threats to personal safety in extreme cases
However, it is important to note that employer retaliation is illegal and prohibited by the Equal Pay Act.
If an employee feels that they have experienced retaliation for filing an equal pay claim, they can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or take legal action.
Employers who violate the Equal Pay Act are liable for any pay discrimination that has occurred and can face penalties such as fines and legal fees.
There are also several benefits to speaking up about unfair pay.
One of the biggest benefits is that you will be able to secure the pay you deserve and have a more fair and equitable work environment.
Additionally, speaking up about unfair pay can help others in your company and can raise awareness about the issue in general.
Fair pay is essential for employees, and it is imperative that they understand their rights and the steps they can take to address any pay disparities they may face.
Assessing your situation and collecting evidence can help determine if you are being paid unfairly, and speaking up about it can be beneficial, although it may also come with potential risks.
It is crucial to remember that employees are protected by the Equal Pay Act and cannot be retaliated against for filing an equal pay claim.
If you are facing a pay disparity or any other form of wage discrimination, it is important to seek the guidance of an experienced employment lawyer who can help you navigate the process and get the compensation you deserve.
At Cilenti & Cooper, we are dedicated to helping workers and employees get the compensation they deserve. If you are facing an issue with fair pay or any other employment matter, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
We are here to help, and we stand with you in your fight for fair pay.