What Is the Equal Pay Act of 1963? - Definition, History & Summary

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Shawn Grimsley

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is an important federal employment law that both employers and employees should know about. In this lesson, you will learn about the Act and be given some of the history behind it. You will also be provided an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz.

We also recommend watching The Sarbanes Oxley Act and Management By Exception: Definition and Limitations

Definition

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that employees be given equal pay for equal work regardless of sex. In other words, it is illegal for employers to pay women less than men for the same work or for men to be paid less than women for the same work.

History

The United States has a long history of pay inequality between men and women. Even today, studies have found that women are paid less than men when performing the same job. Efforts to enact a law to stop unequal pay based upon sex started during World War II, when women entered the workforce in large numbers as men were sent overseas to fight. However, it was not until 1963 that Congress was able to pass the Equal Pay Act.

Summary of Act

The Act makes paying women and men differently for the same work because of their respective sex illegal. The work doesn't have to be exactly the same, but it must be substantially equal. Titles don't matter; job content controls whether jobs are substantially equal. You have to consider the following factors in determining whether jobs are substantially equal:

  • Skill. You must consider whether the two employees have about the same level of experience, education and training. The skills must be relevant to the job. For example, if you have two secretaries but one has a PhD in Ancient Greek Mythology, the advance degree is not relevant to the job and may not be a basis for paying the employee more.
  • Effort. The amount of mental and physical exertion required must be substantially the same. For example, let's say there are two construction workers. One manages a flag directing traffic, while the other must shovel and spread road aggregate. The differences in effort for these two positions are distinct enough to justify different pay.
  • Responsibility. The level of responsibility and accountability must be substantially the same. For example, a secretary placed in charge of all of the other secretaries in the office in addition to her secretarial duties is sufficiently different form the responsibilities of the other secretaries to justify different pay. On other hand, a secretary who is responsible for shutting off the copiers at the end of the day does not justify different pay because the difference in level of accountability is negligible.
  • Working Conditions. Two factors are considered: physical conditions and hazards. For example a miner who works above ground works in different conditions than a miner who works down a 1000 foot deep mine shaft.
  • Same Establishment. Generally, the term establishment means separate physical locations. For example, paying someone more in an office located in Alaska than in Kansas may be justified because of the differences in cost of living. On the other hand, if the HR office assigns employees to different offices in the same city, those offices may be considered the same establishment.

Enforcement

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for investigating charges of violations of the Equal Pay Act. Unlike many of the other federal employment laws, you don't need to file a claim with the EEOC prior to seeking relief in court. You can file a charge with the EEOC, but the deadline in which to file a lawsuit does not change.

Summary

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal for an employer to pay men and women differently if they perform substantially equal work. Factors considered in determining whether a job is substantially equal include skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions, and establishment. If you believe your employer has violated the Act, you can immediately file a lawsuit or can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

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