Your Guide to the Very Important Paycheck Fairness Act

It's currently legal to fire a woman if she discusses her salary with a superior or colleague. That's just one of many reasons why we need the Paycheck Fairness Act to End Wage Discrimination, which was reintroduced by Senator Mikulski & Representative DeLauro earlier this week. The bill, which would ensure women are paid the same amount as their male peers, has already been rejected twice by the United States Congress by Republican senators who say we don't need another law that helps ladies earn their share. But the PFA would build upon the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — which was signed by Obama four years ago yesterday — and the Equal Pay Act in crucial ways by giving workers the agency to fight wage discrimination, ensuring full compensation for victims of gender-based pay discrimination, and banning retaliation against workers who discuss their salaries. Here's everything you need to know.

What, exactly, would the Paycheck Fairness Act do?

The Paycheck Fairness Act deals with overt cases of discrimination, where, for example, two attorneys who are equal in education, productivity, seniority, etc. are paid differently based on gender. Lilly Ledbetter is the poster-woman for this type of situation.

From the NWLC:

Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act have put forth rhetoric about the bill that is misleading – this document contrasts the various myths about the bill and explains what the Paycheck Fairness Act would accomplish in reality. The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen current laws against wage discrimination by protecting employees who voluntarily share pay information with colleagues from retaliation, fully compensating victims of sex-based pay discrimination, empowering women and girls by strengthening their negotiation skills, and holding employers more accountable under the Equal Pay Act.

How is that different from the Fair Pay Act?

The Fair Pay Act deals with the systematic devaluing of "women's work," like nursing, teaching, administrative work, etc., by requiring companies to disclose their pay scales for each job category, and requiring employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.

Here's exactly what the Fair Pay Act does (from a statement by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA):

• Amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, race or national origin;
• Require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions;
• Prohibit companies from reducing other employees' wages to achieve pay equity;
• Require public disclosure of employer job categories and pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual employees; and
• Allow payment of different wages under a seniority system, merit system, or system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production.

The bill would also empower working women through a grant program that will strengthen salary negotiation and other workplace skills and requires the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to eliminate pay disparities. Awesome.

How would the PFA strengthen/update the Equal Pay Act?

1963's Equal Pay Act was monumentous, but it has loopholes that need to be fixed.

The most obvious one is that employers can still sue and generally punish employees for sharing salary info; the PFA would fix that. This way, employees would be able to know whether they were being paid less and could investigate whether that was due to discrimination.

Under the EPA, employers who are found to be paying female employees less than male employees for equal work can defend themselves by saying that the decision was based on a factor other than sex, and then make up broad excuses that shouldn't fly. The PFA tightens affirmative defense so that it can excuse a pay differential for men and women only where the employer can prove that the differential is actually caused by something other than sex and is truly related to job performance and consistent with business necessity.

The EPA mandates that wage comparison must be made between employees working at the same "establishment" to determine whether there is wage discrimination. Some courts have interpreted this to mean that wages paid in different facilities or offices of the same employer cannot be compared even if the employer is paying workers different salaries for the same work. The PFA clarifies that comparisons may be made between employees in offices in the same county or similar political subdivision as well as between broader groups of offices in some common circumstances.

It would also toughen up Equal Pay Act remedies, help facilitate class action EPA claims, improving collection of pay information by the EEOC and reinstate pay equity programs.

Check out this NWLC factsheet for more info.

Can you give me some IRL statistics on the wage gap that will make me really angry?

Of course!

  • American women who work full-time, year-round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.
  • The average woman loses more than $400,000 over her lifetime due to unequal pay practices, and evidence shows that discrimination accounts for much of the disparity.
  • A 2010 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that almost a quarter of private-sector employees endure formal policies against discussing salary information and/or work for companies where workers can be punished for discussing their salaries. Over 61 percent of the private-sector workers surveyed reported that discussing their wages is either prohibited or discouraged.
  • From Harkin's statement:

    "Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor? Eighty-nine percent of maids are female; 67 percent of janitors are male. While the jobs are equivalent, the median weekly earnings for a maid is $387; for a janitor $463. Computer support workers – a job that is 72 percent male – have median weekly earnings of $949. In contrast, secretaries and administrative assistants — which is 96 percent female– have median weekly earnings of $659. Why do we value someone who helps with computers more than someone who makes an entire office function? This is not to say men are overpaid. It is to say that jobs we consider "women's work" are underpaid.

  • I need to know more!

    The NWLC has some great explainers on the wage gap, the Equal Employment Opportunity Resoration Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Phew!