Business Management — Equal Pay for Equal Work

The concept of equal pay for equal work originated in connection with the equal rights movement of the 1960s, particularly in relation to the employment situation faced by women in the American workforce (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005). Prior to World War II, it was relatively rare for American women to work outside of the home. The tremendous need for civilian labor to support the war effort resulted in a significant increase in the numbers of working women and it lasted, in large part, after the war. However, for most of the first two decades after the war, women were not treated equally in many respects. They experienced discrimination in hiring and promotions, they endured sexual harassment (often without any conceivable recourse besides quitting their jobs), and they also earned significantly less money even for doing the exact same jobs as their male counterparts until the enactment of the of 1963 (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009).

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Equal Rights Employment Legislation

In principle, modern federal and state employment laws require employers to compensate employees equally for equal pay (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009). More specifically, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that in accordance with their vocational responsibilities and that they compensate their employees commensurate with the work that they do. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act expressly forbids discrimination in any aspect of employment and compensation based on “suspect classifications” (i.e. race, color, ethnicity, and religion) and the Equal Pay Act expressly prohibits any differences in employment compensation based on gender. Generally, the Equal Pay Act refers to “substantially equal work” as measured by the nature of vocational responsibilities, the requisite skill involved, the conditions in which the work is performed, as well as the degrees of responsibility, authority, and accountability (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009).

Human Resources Implications of

While applicable employment legislation prohibits discrimination in compensation based strictly on gender, it does not necessarily require equal pay in circumstances where there are purely objective differences justifying those differences (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009). There are, in fact, numerous factors on the basis of which compensation differences may be permissible; for example, seniority, performance reviews, experience, the achievement of specific goals or objectives, and the of the work performed by respective employees may all be appropriate criteria for justifying unequal pay (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009).

In light of the applicable legislation and the nature of the appropriate criteria that justify differential compensation, promotion, and benefits, human resource professionals must establish very detailed position analyses and job descriptions (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009). This is the simplest and most effective way of preventing claims for discrimination based on differences in pay and compensation because it provides the opportunity to establish very detailed criteria and parameters corresponding to every position on the basis of which legitimate (i.e. legal and non-discriminatory) decisions to award unequal pay may be made. Generally, these descriptions should always include elements such as the specific tasks and responsibilities associated with every position, the conditions in which those tasks and responsibilities are expected to be performed, the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities, and the specific criteria that will be used to evaluate performance and make future decisions about advancement, benefits, and financial compensation (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, et al., 2009).


Goldfield, D., Abbot, C., Argersinger, J., and Argersinger, P. (2005). Twentieth-Century

America: A Social and Political History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-

Prentice Hall.

Noe, R., Hollenbeck, J.R., Gerhart, B., and Wright, P. (2009). Human Resource

Management. New York: McGraw-Hill.