As an employer you are constantly having to be on the lookout for situations that could end with you on the costly side of a lawsuit from an employee or customer. You have to be vigilant in setting and enforcing state and federal laws while still trying to provide a culture that’s a good place to work and shop.
Today – I’m going to walk you through the main facts that you need to know when it comes to ensuring that you stay legal in the arena of gender equality at your company. I’ll cover the letter of the law, many common misconceptions, and more, so let’s dive in!
The Law of the Land
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the law that governs classes of citizens that are protected as well as outlining what those protections are. Among other things, this law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals based on their sex when it comes to interviewing, hiring, or firing. It also makes it illegal to allow gender to influence decisions when it comes to terms of employment such as promotions, raises, or other job opportunities.
Who is covered by the law? According to Title VII, the following types of companies or individuals are covered:
- All private employers
- state and local governments
- educational institutions that employ 15 or more people
- private and public employment agencies
- labor organizations
- joint labor management committees controlling apprenticeship and training
- current employees
- job applicants
While most violations are reported by women, it’s important to note that the laws apply equally to men and women.
Equal Pay is Probably More Than You Thought
You absolutely cannot pay a woman less than you pay a man for the same work in the same company. You’ve probably already heard this a thousand times. In fact – this is governed by two different laws! Both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act make it illegal to discriminate based on gender for wages or benefits!
It’s important to understand that the jobs don’t have to be identical, but rather, they just have to be substantially equal. What they do for the job is the equating factor – not the job title. If the jobs you are asking them to do require substantially equal skill, effort, responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions with the same company, they have to receive equal pay.
Let’s define those factors real quick to make sure you fully understand them:
- Skill is measured by factors like: experience, education, and training required to do their job. And it’s not a matter of which skills they have, but rather, which skills they need to employ to do their job.
- Effort is the amount of physical, or mental, exertion that is required to do their job
- Responsibility is the degree of internal accountability required to perform their job
- Working Conditions is made up of two factors: physical surroundings like temperature, fumes, and ventilation, as well as hazards of the job
The employees being discriminated against also do not have to hold these jobs at the same time. You can violate EPA by paying a different wage based on the above qualifications to a person who worked in a job before or after an employee of the opposite sex. If you realize you are guilty of gender discrimination, you also need to know that you can’t reduce the wage of either sex to reach wage equality between men and women.
Benefits Have to be Equal Too
You read that right. Equality doesn’t stop at pay – men and women are also legally entitled to equal benefits. Even though differences in the sexes can result in different cost benefits for you, it is still illegal. You cannot make benefits available to employees, spouses, or families based on the employee’s gender.
You also cannot have a retirement or pension plan that uses gender as a determination for retirement age. AND you are also not allowed to use “head of household” or “principal wage earner” of the family unit as a basis for determining benefits. Those labels have nothing to do with job performance and would adversely discriminate against women.
Marital Status Gray Areas
This one gets a little trickier. While it’s not expressly prohibited by the federal laws, several states have laws in place to make discrimination based on marital status illegal. Even if your state doesn’t have those laws, marital status and gender discrimination are often intertwined, so you need to be aware of the overlap.
A good example would be a job that requires frequent trips, especially overnight trips, with more than one employee. If you denied a job to a female employee because you assume her husband wouldn’t like it that she’s traveling overnight with a male coworker, and then give that job to a married man instead, you would be guilty of gender discrimination.
The laws you have to dance around all day every day can drive you crazy! But, you’re not alone. There are lots of business owners out there just like you, and lots of agencies out there to help you navigate the legal waterways. We are constantly publishing great articles like this one, so subscribe and stay informed! And of course, we’re always happy to talk to you about any questions you might have, so just drop me a line.