What is the Equal Pay Act?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Employment discrimination may also be a reason for an employee's termination or the reason an employee does not receive comparable compensation.
Employment discrimination may also be a reason for an employee's termination or the reason an employee does not receive comparable compensation.

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.

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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@Grivusangel -- I have to say it sounds like you might have a case, since you have the equivalent education and much more experience. It's a shame no one has recognized your company loyalty.

The equal pay for equal work concept has been kicking around in US society for as long as I can remember. It's tied into other concepts like the glass ceiling for women -- that women are only being promoted so far in certain companies.

I think the law should require that every management employee should have his or her salary and years of experience available to any employee who asks, as well as the hourly pay, experience and gender of every employee in the company. Hourly employees need not be named specifically, but their pay should be publicly posted in an email or other means so every employee would know the salary structure of the company and whether their pay was fair considering their experience and time with the company.


I can't say for certain it's because I'm female, but I know I'm underpaid, and I have a feeling a man in my position would be paid more, period. The problem is, no man has ever held my position in my department, so I don't have a point of comparison.

I can say I have a four-year degree like everyone else in my department, along with 22 years of experience, and I'm not paid as much as the entry level employees doing another job. I don't think it's fair, and I don't think the supervisor who hired me intended that my job should change as much as it has, or that I would be doing as much as I do now.

One of these days, there will be a lawsuit for back pay, if I can possibly prove I was overlooked because I am a woman. I'm not a lawsuit-happy person, but I just feel I have been treated unfairly.

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