February 9, 2021

What You Need to Know About the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, intended to eliminate the gender-based wage gap plaguing the United States. Though the country witnessed progress in the years since, wage disparity still persists.

If you identify as a woman, you might be all too familiar with wage discrimination — especially if you’re a woman of color.

What’s the deal? Employers often exploit loopholes in the Equal Pay Act that allow them to continue paying certain employees less than others (read: anyone who’s not a cisgender man). They argue that they pay based on “seniority,” “merit,” and other factors. We know that’s bullshit, which is why the Paycheck Fairness Act is necessary to close those loopholes. Here are some things you should know about the bill:

A History of the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act was first introduced to the 105th Congress in 1997. It’s made it past the House of Representatives several times but has yet to make it through the Senate, whether due to lack of votes or blocked by a filibuster.

The bill has been reintroduced to each Congress until the most recent, the 116th, which ended in January 2021. Representatives Rose DeLauro and Patty Murray, Democrats from Connecticut and Washington, respectively, reintroduced the bill most recently in March 2019, where it again made it only through the House.

What the Paycheck Fairness Act Would Do

Some of the Paycheck Fairness Act’s provisions include:

  1. Forbidding employers from factoring your salary history into your new salary — This way, wage disparity from your previous job can’t follow you, and employers can’t justify paying you less because you came from a lower-paying job;
  2. Ensuring equal work is paid, well, equally — If you believe you’re being discriminated against and file a suit, your employer would have to prove it’s out of a business necessity or another non-gender related reason;
  3. Protect employees against retaliation from employers for discussing pay — This provision promotes salary transparency and prevents employers from firing employees for talking about their salaries with their colleagues;
  4. Equalize discrimination claims — If you file a claim under the Equal Pay Act for sex-based discrimination, then this provision ensures you have the same remedies as plaintiffs who file race or ethnicity-based discrimination claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
  5. Make filing claims easier — It would be easier to file and participate in class-action lawsuits;
  6. Influence the Department of Labor — The Paycheck Fairness Act would also mandate that the DOL take measures to eliminate wage disparity, including using all of its investigatory resources to identify cases of pay discrimination;

And more. The Paycheck Fairness Act would even establish a training program for women and girls that teaches them negotiation skills. You can read the full text of the bill here.

Why the Bill is Necessary

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “women who work full time, year-round are paid, on average, only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, resulting in a gap of $10,169 each year. This gap exists in every state, regardless of geography, occupation, education, or work patterns.”

The situation is worse for women of color. Employers pay Latina women an average of 53 cents per man’s dollar, 58 cents to Native American women, 61 cents to Black women, and 85 cents to Asian women (though the NPWF notes that it’s much less for some ethnic subgroups of Asian women).

Wage disparity persists due to a multitude of reasons. Racism and sexism are significant ones, obviously, but have you ever felt uncomfortable talking about your salary with your own colleagues? Regarding point number three in the section above, the cultural pressure (both at-large and within companies) to avoid discussing money is intended to keep you quiet. If you are a woman who makes $50,000 a year while your male coworker with the exact same role makes $60,000, you won’t even know you make $10,000 less because no one says so. Therefore, you can’t complain about it, and the cycle continues on.

The Act’s provisions promise invaluable legal protections for victims of gender-based wage discrimination. While there will be growing pains, many of its provisions would also promote cultural changes that make sex-based wage disparity harder to get away with.

What You Can Do

Pending legislation from former Congressional terms expires, so the Paycheck Fairness Act will hopefully be reintroduced soon. It has a history of passing through the House of Representatives, but it’s always wise to contact your specific representative and voice your support. Should the bill make it to the Senate again, then contact your senators to emphasize why you believe the Paycheck Fairness Act is imperative and try to persuade them to vote in its favor.

Visit CommonCause.org to find your representative. You can also raise awareness of the Act on social media so that Congress knows the bill is important to its constituents.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a necessary bill, but it hasn’t been enacted into law yet. Encourage your representatives to support it so that we can end wage discrimination and hold employers accountable.

Photo by Kyle Mills on Unsplash

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