Equal pay for equal work was a popular slogan during the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements of the 1960s. Yet even today, some people feel that they have experienced sex discrimination in their careers. Equal pay for equal work is guaranteed by law, although “equal work” and “equal pay” are not easy to define. Provided here is a brief guide to the law.

Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 specifies that men and women must be compensated equally for equal work in the same company. Job title does not matter, but job content does. The EPA specifies a list of criteria that are used in determining whether jobs are substantially equal.

Skill – This criterion encompasses the training, education, skills and knowledge that the job requires. Even if one employee holds an advanced degree in another field, if that degree is not directly related to the job, then it cannot be used as a basis for paying that employee differently.

Effort – This criterion defines the amount of mental or physical exertion that the job requires. If one employee is regularly assigned to perform an extra task that requires considerably more effort, then he or she may be paid a higher wage.

Responsibility – This is the amount of responsibility the employee has to act on behalf of the company. An employee who has significantly more responsibility may be paid a higher wage. However, this must be substantial and provable. Trivial tasks do not count.

Working Conditions – This criterion is further divided into two areas: physical surroundings and hazards. Two employees working in different locations must receive equal pay unless one location is significantly more dangerous or uncomfortable than the other.

Establishment – This topic can be a bit confusing. Establishment refers to the physical place of doing business. In general, it is limited to one operating location, and allows pay differentials between varying locations. However, if a central administration covers all locations, then all work locations may be considered part of the same establishment.

Shift differentials, merit-based pay, bonuses based on output and other nondiscriminatory methods of setting pay are permitted. However, should a lawsuit occur, the burden of proof will be on the employer to demonstrate that discrimination was not a factor.


These laws also govern pay discrimination. Although they are not specifically aimed at preventing sex discrimination in wages, they have an effect on more global corporate policies that may lead to sex discrimination. Examples include:

• Preventing pay discrimination based on disability
• Preventing “head of household” pay differentials that go primarily to married men
• Preventing employers from setting lower than average salaries for jobs held primarily by women or minorities
• Requiring employers who discontinue discriminatory practices to compensate workers who had been discriminated against

Equal pay for equal work is guaranteed by federal laws. However, individual cases can become difficult to prove.