Tips for Preventing Unequal Pay Practices

In recent posts, we covered the legal duties of Kentucky employers under state and federal law to compensate women and men equally for comparable work, noting several legal exceptions. As we explained, if a pay differential between men and women is illegal, an employer may not decrease the pay of the higher-paid employees.

In addition, employers cannot retaliate in any way against any employee who complains or files a claim about unequal pay or who assists in another employee’s claim (i.e., as a witness).

The disparities are real

According to the Pew Research Center, the gap in pay rates based on gender has been fairly stable for the last 15 years; in 2018, women earned 85% of what men made. The gap was narrower for younger women.

According to Pew, the gap is based, in part, on unequal education levels, differentials in vocational experience, and “occupational segregation.” Other reasons, however, are harder to quantify, such as discrimination based on sex. Pew finds that about 42% of women say they have experienced discrimination based on gender and about 25% of working women report earning less than men for the same jobs.

And Dame Magazine reports that it is even bleaker for women of color, who are more concentrated in lower-wage jobs.

Tips for Kentucky employers

We advise Kentucky employers how to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws, including equal-pay requirements. Setting fair pay rates based on job requirements and merit only will help an employer avoid unequal pay complaints, government investigations, and litigation.

The EEOC has tips for small businesses that will help prevent unequal pay discrimination:

  • Train managers who make decisions about wages and raises to understand what the law requires, including documentation of reasons for pay differentials;
  • Avoid basing salary or wage rates on prior pay levels (because if the previous salary was discriminatory, that the pay gap will continue in the new position) and carefully evaluate every individual’s qualifications separately and consistently using preset criteria;
  • Pay everyone the same for the same work, with narrow, legal exceptions like disparity based on bona fide seniority, incentive (like quantity or quality of production), or merit systems without discriminatory intention and with consistent application to all; and
  • Document all pay decisions with the reasons for setting wages, salary, bonuses, and raises.

Putting in the work to establish fair pay policies and practices upfront is likely to help to prevent illegal disparity and litigation later.


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