Despite the passage of the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pay disparities continue to exist for women, especially women of color. Studies show that women typically earn 86 cents for every earned by a man, with Black women earning 63 cents and Hispanic women earning only 53 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. To help close the pay gap, the Colorado Legislature passed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (EPEWA), which went into effect on January 1, 2021. The intent of the act is to help “… close the pay gap in Colorado and ensure that employees with similar job duties are paid the same wage rate regardless of sex, or sex plus another protected status.”
The EPEWA applies to all public and private employers in Colorado, regardless of how many employees they have.
What does the Equal Pay Act do?
Aside from requiring employers to give their female employees equal pay, the act also gives employees more rights with regards to their compensation:
- Employers can’t prohibit employees from discussing compensation or punish them for doing so.
- Employers can’t ask about a job candidate’s wage history and/or use that wage history to determine an employee’s salary.
- Employers will have to make reasonable efforts to “announce, post, or make known all opportunities for promotion” to all current employees on the same calendar day.
- All job postings must contain salary and benefits information.
- Employers must keep records of job descriptions and wage history for each employee while employed and for two years after termination.
Employers are now prohibited from requiring employees to disclose their wage history and/or using that to determine their compensation. This will give women more opportunities to increase their pay by eliminating the cycle of moving from one low-paying job to another. Also, allowing employees to discuss compensation without retaliation removes the veil of secrecy that often hides male employees receiving higher pay for similar jobs. Basically, it increases transparency and equality.
Exceptions to the Equal Pay Act
While employees are protected against any sex-based pay discrimination for work requiring similar skill, effort and responsibility, the law does permit pay differences arising from:
- A seniority system
- A merit system
- A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production
- The geographic location where the work is performed
- Education, training, or experience reasonably related to the work
- Travel that is a regular and necessary condition of the job
However, the law also states that employers must prove that they “reasonably” relied on any of these exceptions they use when determining salary. If an employer is going to pay a male employee more because he has more education, they have to prove that the additional education makes a difference in job performance.
How the Equal Pay Act helps your claim
One of the main things the Equal Pay Act does is require employers to keep records of all job descriptions and wage histories for the duration of each employee’s employment, and for at least two years after that. This includes hourly rate or salary range, plus all benefits and other compensation offered to the employee. Failure by the employer to maintain these records creates a rebuttable presumption that the records not maintained contained information favorable to the employee’s claim in a lawsuit.
The EPEWA also provides a right of action that allows employees to sue for up to three years of backpay for unlawful pay disparities. Employees may also receive additional damages if an employer is shown not to have acted in “good faith” when determining compensation. Finally, employees can sue for attorney fees, reinstatement, promotions, pay increases, and other legal relief.
What can you do if you believe you have been unfairly paid?
If you feel you have been the victim of pay discrimination, you need to act quickly because there is a two-year window (after you leave your job) when you can file a claim. Beyond that, compile all your employment records, including reviews and pay history. If you don’t have these records, you have the right to request them from your employer (see our post: You have a right to your personnel files).
After that, you need to find an attorney who is experienced in fighting workplace discrimination. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at 720-515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We’ll aggressively fight for you in court and make sure your rights are protected and you are treated fairly.