For some time, workers have sought equal pay for equal work. However, despite advancements in anti-discrimination laws, the female-to-male earnings ratio is 83%. This means that a female employee earns only about 83 cents for every dollar a male worker earns. To address this disparity, states and the federal government have laws requiring employers to pay men and women equally.
The Equal Pay Act in Maryland is one such law meant to address pay discrepancies between men and women. The impact of the Equal Pay Act in Maryland is expansive because it also makes salaries and wages more transparent and protects employees from salary history discrimination. The experienced labor and employment attorneys at Smithey Law Group, LLC explain the Act in detail below.
What Is the Equal Pay Act in Maryland?
The Equal Pay Act in Maryland is formally entitled the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. The Act prohibits pay discrimination between genders in similar jobs. Specifically, an employer cannot pay an employee of one sex or gender identity less than an employee of another sex or gender identity if they work in the same establishment and perform “work of comparable character.” Additionally, employers cannot provide “less favorable employment opportunities” to employees of one particular sex or gender identity.
Plus, the Act has some expansive requirements for employers, such as transparency regarding the salaries and wages of all employees. Additionally, an employer can’t require future employees to disclose their salary histories. Understanding the Equal Pay Act for employers is critical to preventing harm and lawsuits.
Sex and Gender Identity
A question that often arises about the Equal Pay Act for employees is whether it equally applies to men and women. The answer is that the Equal Pay Act protects both men and women. The employer cannot discriminate based on sex, regardless of which sex receives the benefit.
In addition, an employer cannot favor one gender identity over another. Gender identity is the gender a person perceives themselves to be, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth.
The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination in two primary ways:
- Paying different sexes or gender identities differently when they work for the same establishment and perform work of comparable character and
- Providing less favorable employment opportunities to one sex or gender identity.
Working in the same establishment and performing work of comparable character generally means working in the same general area and doing the same or similar work. There are some exceptions, like if there is a seniority system in place that doesn’t discriminate based on sex or gender.
Providing less favorable employment opportunities based on sex or gender identity includes:
- Not telling employees of one sex or gender identity about a favorable career track and
- Directing employees of one sex or gender identity to a less favorable career path.
Basically, an employer can’t steer only one sex or gender identity toward career advancement.
Pay Transparency and Wage History Discrimination
The Equal Pay Act also requires wage transparency. This means that employees and future employees can:
- Ask about the wages of other employees,
- Discuss salaries with other employees, and
- Find out the wage range for open positions.
Plus, an employer generally can’t ask a potential employee about their salary history. They may be able to ask about the prospective employee’s wage history only after they’ve made an offer of employment and the request is for the purpose of paying the employee more than the advertised salary range.
The Equal Pay Act also protects employees from retaliation by employers. What this means is that an employer cannot take adverse action against an employee or prospective employee if the employee:
- Asks about wages;
- Discusses wages;
- Complains about a wage disparity to the employer, another employee, or Maryland’s Department of Labor;
- Brings legal action against the employer for violating the Equal Pay Act; or
- Testifies in an Equal Pay Act lawsuit.
An adverse work action includes reprimanding, firing, disciplining, transferring, harassing, failing to promote, or creating a hostile environment for the employee.
How to Bring an Equal Pay Act Case
An employee or prospective employee who believes an employer violated this law can file a complaint with the Maryland Department of Labor. The Department of Labor will investigate the complaint. If they find that the employer violated the law, they may try to resolve the case informally or refer it to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General can file a lawsuit in court on behalf of the employee.
An employee can also file a lawsuit against the employer. The employee must show that the employer knew or reasonably should have known that the employer was violating Maryland’s Equal Pay Act. There are many ways to show that the employer knew or reasonably should have known they were violating the Act. An experienced labor and employment attorney can explain the evidence you’d need in a lawsuit.
Compensation for Equal Pay Act Violation
An employee may receive compensation from an employer if the employer violates the Equal Pay Act. If an employee is successful in their lawsuit, a court may award them:
- Injunctive relief, like an order prohibiting an employer from doing something problematic;
- Money damages in the amount of the wage difference;
- An additional amount in liquidated damages equal to the pay difference; and
- Attorney fees and costs.
An employer may also face other penalties, such as civil penalties or even a criminal misdemeanor conviction if they interfere with an investigation or continue to violate the act.
Time Limit for Filing an Equal Pay Act Claim in Maryland
People who believe they have a claim under Maryland’s Equal Pay Act have three years to file a complaint with either the Department of Labor or in Court. For federal claims, an individual has two years from the alleged unlawful compensation to file a complaint.
Contact an Our Employment Practice for Wage Discrimination Issues
Although wage discrimination based on sex or gender identity is illegal, it still happens. The employment attorneys at the Smithey Law Group are here to help you if an employer violated the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act in Maryland. Contact us today.