The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 prohibits an employer from discriminating on the basis of sex by paying employees of one sex less than it pays to employees of the another sex for equal work on jobs which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions. Signed almost 50 years ago, the EPA has enabled women to take steps forward in the job market. However, there still exists a noticeable gender gap between men and women with respect to pay. For example, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. This gap crosses over all types of professions including higher paid occupations such as lawyers and doctors.
Nearly half of American workplaces either discourage employees from discussing their pay practices or outright prohibit it. This places many employees who believe they are being discriminated against in a bind. If employees report or bring up their concerns about pay inequality to management, they risk putting their job in jeopardy. It is counter-productive to social change to punish employees who ask questions regarding possible discriminatory practices.
President Obama made an attempt to counter such practices by supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act. This Act would expand the scope of the EPA and allow employees to disclose their salaries in the workplace and prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who raise wage issues. Allowing employees access to this information would require more employers to justify the pay inequality and show that the differences in pay were due to factors other than gender. Unfortunately, while the Act had great bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, it was blocked by Republicans in the Senate. After the Senate vote, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, utilized a procedural tactic which would enable the bill to be brought up again at another time. Hopefully, the next attempt to pass the bill will be a successful one.
If you are at a company which has a policy against discussing pay practices, and you believe you are being discriminated against based on your gender and are being paid unequally, there are other options to consider. If you fear retaliation by your employer, you can consult an employment law attorney to advise you on how to protect yourself through the process. You can also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who can start an investigation on the matter.