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What Is the Equal Pay Act?

Employment discrimination may also be a reason for an employee's termination or the reason an employee does not receive comparable compensation.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2014
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The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of the US, and the Equal Pay Act of the UK are two laws that sought to create greater equality in pay among the genders. When they first entered the workforce, women had little protection in this area — it was often argued that women should make less because they weren’t supporting families. Yet many people argued that discrimination on the basis of gender when it came to determining salary was incorrect. To counter this, both the US and UK developed laws to prohibit salary discrimination based on gender, and many other countries have similar laws.

In the 1970s, the UK developed and passed an Equal Pay Act that demanded that pay be the same provided people performed the same type of work. They must also have equivalent experience, and be able to prove that they have the same level of competence of other employees. Provided these things can be verified, gender should never be a consideration in determining salary. If it can be proven that a man or woman is not being paid equally, that person may have legal recourse and can sue for back salary and an increase to normal pay.

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In the US, efforts to develop the Equal Pay Act began earlier. In the 1960s, several important pieces of legislations helped to establish fewer discriminatory practices in the workforce. One of these was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was aimed at trying to provide equitable treatment in the workforce and elsewhere for the genders, people of different religious backgrounds, and people of different races.

The US Equal Pay Act went even farther by specifically discussing how employers should evaluate gender. It was added onto an employee protections act that was passed in 1938, and is called the Fair Labor Standards Act. Other laws have helped to strengthen the EPA, and one of these is the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This law gets rid of statute of limitations on being able to sue for back payments, if an employee later realizes he or she has not been paid fairly.

Despite the intentions of the EPA, it’s estimated that women still are not paid equally. While the Equal Pay Act did improve and equalize some salaries, it still is not universally applied in either the UK or US. Since employers often discourage employees from discussing salary, some women remain underpaid for years without being aware that they are underpaid. EPAs in countries are a battle being successfully waged, but not yet won.

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