Time for an EPA Update: Why the Paycheck Fairness Act and Fair Pay Act Are Needed to Close the Gender/Race Wage Gaps

Over sixty years ago the Equal Pay Act (EPA) was signed into law, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. In 1963, when the EPA became law, women made roughly 59 cents to every dollar made by men. While the EPA and other civil rights laws have helped to narrow the wage gap, they have not gone far enough. Today, women typically make only 84 cents for every dollar earned by men. This wage gap is even larger for many women of color.

Now an update to the EPA, the law’s equal pay “operating system” is desperately needed to fix the “bugs” in the system which permit the practice of some employers paying unequal wages to continue. Just like updating an app or an operating system for a mobile phone or tablet is recommended to make sure the system does not crash, remains compatible with the latest technology, and fixes “bugs” or problems identified in the system, passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) and the Fair Pay Act are needed to help eliminate wage gaps that persist based on gender and race.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) would update and strengthen the EPA by closing loopholes that have weakened the law over time and allowed employers to justify paying workers unfairly. By “updating” the EPA, the Paycheck Fairness Act would help ensure workers can receive the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The PFA would also bar retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss or disclose their wages. The proposed law would also prohibit employers from relying on salary history in determining future pay; provides technical assistance to businesses; requires pay data collection; and supports salary negotiation skills training programs to give workers the tools they need to advocate for higher wages.

The Fair Pay Act was also introduced in Congress in March 2023. This proposed law would curb wage discrimination by requiring employers to provide equal pay for work of equivalent value, whether or not the jobs are the same and expand pay equity to address pay issues based on race and national origin. The Fair Pay Act would also address unequal pay in female-dominated jobs that are objectively rated equivalent to jobs traditionally dominated by men, a major factor behind the pay gap. The legislation would also ban discrimination for bringing or participating in a claim, require employers to file pay information with the EEOC, prohibit discrimination for discussing or disclosing wages. Significantly, it would stop employers from reducing the wages of higher earners (typically men) to comply with pay equity requirements. And the bill allows compensatory or punitive damages for violations.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has been introduced into every Congress since the mid-1990s Passing the PFA would help close the gender/race pay gaps that persist among workers. Most recently the PFA was reintroduced in March 2023 with bipartisan support with over 50 cosponsors. Polling shows that equal pay is one of the most popular issues with the public regardless of political party. The PFA and the Fair Pay Act are updates to the EPA that can close the gender and race wage gaps that continue to harm workers and their financial security. It’s time for an update.

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