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What Is Pay Equity?

Pay equity refers to the principle of ensuring that individuals are compensated fairly and impartially for their work regardless of factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics unrelated to job performance.

It aims to eliminate wage disparities and address systemic discrimination in compensation practices. Pay equity advocates for fair and equitable compensation structures where employees are remunerated based on the value of their work rather than personal characteristics.

Achieving pay equity involves examining and rectifying any existing disparities in wages among employees performing similar jobs within an organization.

Why Is Pay Equity Important?

Pay equity is important for several reasons:

  • Talent retention and attraction: Organizations that prioritize pay equity are more likely to attract and retain top talent. This is because workers are more likely to remain loyal to employers who value and compensate them fairly and this will also help ensure higher levels of engagement, productivity, and satisfaction.
  • Legal compliance: Many countries have laws and regulations in place to promote pay equity and prevent discrimination in compensation. Compliance with these laws is essential for avoiding legal repercussions and maintaining a positive reputation as an employer.
  • Social responsibility: Ensuring pay equity demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility and ethical business practices. It sends a message that the organization values diversity, inclusion, and equality in the workplace.
  • Fairness and justice: Pay equity ensures that individuals are compensated fairly for their work, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics. It promotes fairness and justice in the workplace by eliminating discrimination and bias in compensation practices.
  • Economic empowerment: Equal pay enables individuals to support themselves and their families financially, leading to greater economic empowerment and stability. When everyone is paid fairly for their work, it contributes to overall economic growth and prosperity.

Overall, pay equity is crucial for promoting a fair and just society, fostering economic empowerment, and creating inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Pay Equity Laws In The United States

In the United States, there are several laws aimed at promoting pay equity and preventing discrimination in compensation. Some of the key laws include:

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963: This federal law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex by requiring equal pay for equal work. It applies to all employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. While it does not specifically address pay equity, courts have interpreted Title VII to cover wage discrimination claims, particularly those based on sex.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009: This law amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to clarify that each paycheck affected by discriminatory compensation is a separate violation, regardless of when the discrimination began. It effectively extends the statute of limitations for filing pay discrimination claims.
  • Executive orders: The federal government has issued executive orders aimed at promoting pay transparency and equity among federal contractors. For example, Executive Order 13665 prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay and requires them to provide compensation data broken down by sex and race.
  • State and local laws: In addition to federal laws, many states and local jurisdictions have their own pay equity laws that may provide additional protections beyond federal statutes. These laws may impose stricter requirements or address other forms of discrimination not covered by federal law.

How Do State And Local Governments Address Pay Equity Issues?

State and local governments in the United States address pay equity issues through various measures, including legislation, regulations, and enforcement efforts. Here are some common ways they address pay equity.

Passing pay equity laws

Many states and local jurisdictions have enacted their own pay equity laws that go beyond federal requirements. 

These laws may include provisions such as prohibiting employers from asking about salary history during the hiring process, requiring employers to justify pay differentials based on factors other than gender or other protected characteristics, and mandating pay transparency in job descriptions.

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Salary history bans

Several states and localities have implemented salary history bans that prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history during the hiring process. 

The goal of these laws is to prevent perpetuating wage gaps based on past discrimination and to ensure that pay is based on qualifications and job responsibilities rather than previous earnings.

Equal pay audits

Some states and localities require or encourage employers to conduct equal pay audits to identify and address any gender or racial disparities in pay within their organizations. These audits may involve analyzing compensation data, job classifications, and other relevant factors to ensure compliance with pay equity laws.

Enforcement and remedies

State and local agencies are responsible for enforcing pay equity laws and investigating complaints of wage discrimination. They may conduct audits, investigate complaints, and take enforcement actions against employers found to be in violation of pay equity laws. Remedies for wage discrimination may include back pay, compensatory damages, and injunctive relief.

Pay Equity Reporting Requirements

Although no reports related specifically to pay equity exist in the US, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does require many companies to report key demographic and pay data.

The report, EEO-1 Component Data Collection (Employer Information Report), requires all private sector employers with 100 or more employees, and federal contractors with 50 or more employees meeting certain criteria, to submit workforce demographic data, including data by job category and sex and race or ethnicity, to the EEOC.

It's essential to stay updated on any changes to federal, state, or local laws regarding pay reporting requirements, as they can vary and may impact employers' obligations to disclose information about employee compensation.

Best Practices To Ensure Pay Equity In Your Organization

Here are some best practices to help you ensure pay equity in your organization:

  • Conduct a pay equity analysis: Employers should analyze their current pay structures to identify any disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics. This analysis should involve examining both base pay and total compensation, including bonuses and benefits.
  • Implement transparent compensation practices: Establish clear and transparent criteria for determining employee compensation. This helps ensure that pay decisions are based on objective factors such as skills, experience, and job performance rather than subjective factors that could lead to discrimination. For more, check out our article on pay transparency.
  • Train managers and HR Staff: Provide training to managers and human resources staff on pay equity principles, bias awareness, and fair compensation practices. This helps ensure that pay decisions are made consistently and without discrimination.
  • Establish clear channels for addressing concerns: Create channels for employees to raise concerns about pay equity issues, such as an anonymous reporting system or a designated point of contact within the organization. Employees should feel comfortable bringing forward concerns without fear of retaliation.
  • Seek external expertise if needed: If necessary, employers can seek guidance and expertise from external consultants or legal advisors with experience in pay equity and employment law. This can help ensure that policies and practices are compliant with legal requirements and industry best practices.
  • Regularly monitor and report on progress: Implement mechanisms to monitor and report on progress toward achieving pay equity goals. This may include conducting regular pay audits, tracking key metrics related to pay equity, and reporting findings to senior leadership and employees.
  • Regularly review and update policies: Pay equity policies should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure they remain effective and compliant with relevant laws and regulations. This includes staying informed about changes in legislation related to pay equity.

By following these steps, employers can create or improve their pay equity policies and foster a more equitable and inclusive workplace for all employees.

How To Perform A Pay Equity Analysis

Performing a pay equity analysis involves several steps:

1. Document your pay practices

Most companies will undertake a pay equity audit on at least an annual basis, and you should look to codify this within your compensation philosophy. 

Documenting your pay practices gives certainty to your people of not only what is involved but when they can expect it to take place. Your compensation philosophy should therefore be the place you start when defining the goal of the pay equity audit, which is a critical first step in its undertaking.

2. Set goals that inform your approach

It’s easy for the volume of data that materializes in a pay equity audit to become overwhelming. To combat this, you’ll need to set a series of goals as a way to inform how you look into the mass of data you’ll be working with and draw insights that can inform action. 

For example, let’s say you are looking to compare all roles to their market benchmark and create a cost to remediate. You’ll need some key data points, such as employee salary, job level, and market benchmark. 

3. Consider sub-goals

As you define top-level goals for a pay equity audit, you’ll undoubtedly uncover requirements that need to be satisfied to meet them — these are your sub-goals. 

An example of a sub-goal may include ‘set a benchmark rate for each role type’, which needs to happen before we know if someone is paid fairly compared to the market. 

Defining the needs for your goals and documenting these sub-goals is critical to ensure you know what you’re doing and when you’re done. 

It’s always a good idea to speak with your legal counsel in a process like this, ensuring you’re accounting for any federal laws, DEI, or demographic metrics that should inform your analysis along the way.

4. Gather data

Collect relevant data on employee salaries, including base pay, bonuses, commissions, and other forms of compensation. Ensure you have data on factors such as job title, years of experience, education level, and performance ratings.

This is where tools such as payroll software or compensation management software can help as they capture compensation data internally as well as provide wider-industry data.

5. Define comparable groups

Group employees into comparable categories based on factors such as job title, department, level of responsibility, experience, and performance. This ensures you're comparing employees who are similarly situated in terms of their roles and contributions to the organization.

6. Normalize data

Adjust for legitimate factors that may impact pay, such as experience, education, performance, and tenure. This helps ensure that any observed pay disparities are not due to differences in qualifications or job-related factors.

7. Conduct statistical analysis

Use statistical methods to analyze the data and identify any patterns or disparities in pay between different groups. Common statistical techniques used in pay equity analysis include regression analysis, t-tests, and ANOVA.

8. Account for confounding variables

Consider other factors that may influence pay disparities, such as job tenure, performance ratings, and geographic location. Adjust the analysis to account for these variables and isolate the effect of demographic factors on pay.

5. Evaluate pay equity metrics

Calculate pay equity metrics such as the gender pay gap, racial pay gap, and ethnicity pay gap to assess the extent of any disparities within the organization.

7. Interpret findings

Interpret the results of the analysis to determine whether there are any statistically significant pay disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics. Consider the magnitude of any pay gaps and whether they can be explained by legitimate factors.

If the analysis identifies pay disparities that cannot be justified by legitimate factors, take corrective action to address the inequities. 

This may involve adjusting salaries, revising compensation policies, or implementing other measures to ensure fair and equitable pay practices.

For more, check out our article on how to conduct a pay equity audit.

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What are the factors that relate to pay equity?

Pay equity aims to ensure everyone is compensated fairly relative to their contribution to their organization and nothing else. Taken into consideration are job role and level, education and experience, geographic location, and tenure.

What is the Equal Pay Act?

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a United States federal law that was enacted in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The purpose of the Equal Pay Act is to address and prohibit wage discrimination based on sex by ensuring that employees receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of their gender.

Pay Equity Vs. Pay Equality: What’s The Difference?

Pay equity is the idea that individuals should be compensated equitably for their work, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic unrelated to their job.

Pay equality is the principle that all employees should receive equal compenstion for the same job, irrespective of their skill level, experience, or any other distinguishing factors.

Does a gender pay gap exist in the US?

According to research from the Pew Research Centre, in 2022 American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. This difference is further exacerbated across racial groups, with black women earning 70% as much as White men and Hispanic women earning only 65% as much.

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.