Another Business Resolution: Conduct a Pay Audit in 2019

Pay Audits are different from wage and hour audits. A wage and hour audit looks at whether employees are being paid in compliance with state and federal wage and hour laws. A pay audit reviews whether there may be discrimination in pay practices within an organization. With the #metoo movement and a renewed focus on pay gaps, an internal review of pay practices could save a business from liability under the primary statutes used to combat discriminatory pay gaps – Title VII, the Florida Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Pay Act.

As with other types of claims brought under state and federal discrimination statutes, a claim of disparate pay based on any protected characteristic is subject to the same administrative filing requirement and provides the same remedies as a wrongful termination case. On the other hand, under the Equal Pay Act (which only covers disparities based on gender), there is not an administrative filing requirement, and the definitions and statute of limitations for an employee to bring a claim is the same as those in place for the Fair Labor Standards Act. Further, Equal Pay Act claims do not require proof of intent to discriminate on the part of the employer. And, not having intent as a requirement makes it easier for an employee/former employee to establish a prima facie case. Under the Equal Pay Act, an employee need only show that she works at the same location, performs substantially equal work (regardless of job title), works under substantially equal working conditions, and is paid less than a male counterpart.

In a perfectly competitive labor market, the value an employee contributes to a business should determine that employee’s wage. However, in the real world, there are disparities of income that may be due to differences in labor productivity, and there are wage disparities across genders and ethnicities. When it comes to gender, disparities may be due to:

  • Compensating wage differentials: men may be employed in more dangerous or “dirty” jobs that pay more
  • Choice of college major and choice of career
  • Time constraints: mothers may have only limited time to pursue career advancement
  • Different negotiating skills of men and women
  • The number of years of work experience
  • The number of years in continuous employment
  • The number of hours spent at work
  • Employer discrimination

As set forth above, employer discrimination is only one of several reasons why a gap may exist and employers may have pay gaps that are based on non-discriminatory reasons.  Both the civil rights statutes and the Equal Pay Act provide several defenses to claims of discriminatory pay. Employers can avoid liability by proving the pay differential is due to one of the following reasons:

  • Seniority System
  • Merit Pay System
  • System that measures quality or quantity of work
  • Factor based on any factor other than sex  (this is considered a “catch all” defense)

It is good for employers to be aware of any gaps that exist in its pay practices and understand why they exist. When an employer does not have an explanation, that is when litigation and potential liability can ensue. Below are a few ways that businesses can help prevent (and if necessary defend) discrimination in pay claims:

  • Evaluate all forms of compensation (starting salary, benefits, bonuses, shift differentials, overtime, training opportunities, separation pay, etc.) at least annually for potential pay disparities based on race/ethnicity and gender
    • Evaluate how pay raises and bonuses are determined to ensure that decisions are made in a non-discriminatory manner.
    • Evaluate how you assign your employees to specific jobs.
    • Focus on job recruitment, placement and how pay is assigned to job classes.
  • In addition to an annual assessment, throughout the year conduct periodic “spot” checks for potential compensation problems.
  • Correct problems as soon as they are discovered.
  • Evaluate how women and minorities are placed in your workforce. Do not make assumptions about what they can or cannot do.
    • Does your hiring process seek diversity in the qualified applicant pool?
    • Do you offer career training or opportunities for both genders?
    • If starting salaries and signing bonuses are negotiated, ensure that such a practice does not have an adverse impact on women or minority workers.
    • Evaluate whether all workers have equal opportunity for advancement. Placing one gender in areas that lead to greater advancement could be a violation of law.
  • Periodically review your performance evaluation process and the ratings given to each employee to determine whether the process or the ratings unfairly disadvantage women, or any other protected classes.

This post is part of a series of business resolutions to consider for the new year. In case you missed them, our previous posts in the series discussed Florida minimum wageemployee performance management, and employee handbook/wage audits.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558