In a previous post, we began discussing how employers must always be mindful of minimizing their legal exposure given that litigation -- particularly when brought by employees -- can be costly, disruptive and altogether harmful to morale.
In recognition of this reality, we began discussing an employer's obligations under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and designed to prevent compensation discrimination in the workplace.
To recap, the EPA dictates that men and women must receive equal compensation for performing jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions within the same establishment.
While this seems like a rather straightforward definition, the EEOC has assigned a very specific meaning to each of these factors.
The emphasis here is on what skills are actually required to perform the job, not what skills the individual employees actually possess. That means things like ability, training, experience and education would certainly be considered.
By way of illustration, two accounting positions could be classified as commensurate for the purposes of the EPA despite the fact that one of the employee's holds an advanced degree in organic chemistry. The reason? This is essentially a skill possessed by the individual employee, but not a requirement for the position.
This factor considers the amount of mental or physical exertion required to perform job-related duties.
By way of illustration, consider a male and female worker who work directly across from one another on an assembly line performing the exact same duties. Here, it would clearly be a violation of the EPA to pay the male employee more.
However, if there is another employee at the end of the line who performs the same duties as these other two assembly line employees, but who must also physically carry the completed product over to a pallet, it would be permissible to pay this employee a higher wage -- regardless of their gender -- provided that this extra lifting requires substantial effort and is a regular part of the job.
We'll continue examining what is required under these factors in our next post on this topic and ultimately explore some of the affirmative defenses available to employers accused of violating the EPA.
If you are an employer with questions or concerns about how to address employee discrimination, harassment or retaliation claims, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.