It’s Your Money: 10 things you can do to make sure you get equal pay for equal work

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NEWS: The Human Rights Campaign Foundation released findings on June 22 that LGBTQ+ women workers in the U.S. make approximately 79 cents for every dollar the American man earns. A study in Australia released in June found the older women get, the wider the gender wage gap is. 

WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU: We already know that women in general make 83 cents on the dollar for what men earn, and that people of color make less than their white coutnerparts. No matter who you are, if you work, you’re likely on the good end or bad end of an unequal pay situation.


MANCHESTER. NH – The Human Rights Campaign Foundation finding in June that LGBTQ+ women make less per dollar than cis gender women is just the latest wage gap news in a long stretch of information about unequal pay.

As we noted in a March InkLink article, the reasons for the gender (and racial) pay gap are many, with much of it based on systemic discrimination, employer policies, a lack of child care and other support for single low-income mothers and more.

LinkedIn, in its “29 big ideas that will change the world in 2022,” predicted openly discussing what we are paid will “come out of the shadows” this year. It noted that employers are reluctant to be transparent about pay because employees will start to resent each other. Right. That’s what happens when people find out they’re not making as much as their similarly qualified co-worker. 

Employers, obviously, and the federal government can do a lot to close the gender wage gap, but so far they’ve been dragging their heels. Congress has stalled on the often-introduced yet-to-be-passed Paycheck Fairness Act, which strengthens the 1963 Equal Pay Act.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if women, people of color and LGBTQ+ workers are still not making what their white male counterparts are 59 years after the Equal Pay act was passed, then someone ought to do something about it.

That leaves it to you, the worker. Today we’ll discuss the 10 most effective things you can do to make sure you and everyone else get equal pay for equal work.

  1. Discuss your pay rate with your coworkers

It is illegal for your employer to forbid you to discuss how much you make with your fellow employees. It has been since the Fair Labor Act of 1935. Of course, most employers don’t want workers talking to each other about what they make – it’s a lot harder to discriminate that way. Some states have “pay transparency” laws that require employers to make employee wages public. New Hampshire isn’t one of them. 

Pay transparency is also part of the languishing Paycheck Fairness Act and one big reason it hasn’t passed. It would require employers to make wages for specific jobs public. Ouch!

If you’re a member of a union, knowing what everyone makes isn’t such an odd thing. Unions have pay scales, and certain jobs get certain pay. If unions can do it, certainly everyone else could, too, right? Apparently not.

While it would go a long way toward closing the gender wage game, discussing how much you’re paid with coworkers means overcoming a lifetime of being told how wrong that is. Your colleagues may recoil in fear or disgust if you try it. If they do, point out that it’s legal and it’s a good way to make sure everyone with equal qualifications is being paid equally for equal work.

The exception to this law is if, as part of your job, you know what others make. You are not protected by the law if you get in trouble for disclosing other workers’ pay without your employer’s consent unless you’re doing it as part of a legal action.

On the other hand, if you are not in a position like that and overhear your fellow white male coworker brag he’s making $50,000, and you know that your female friend who does the same work and has three more years’ experience is making $40,000, there’s nothing wrong with letting her know what you heard Mr. Big Mouth say. You can’t be disciplined for it. And she can’t be disciplined for raising the point with her employer. And no, she doesn’t have to say how she found out.

  1. Don’t be a party to wage theft

If you are paid by the hour, don’t “donate” time to your boss that you’re not going to put in for. It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it – loyalty, pressure, guilt, the fact he told you you’re not a “team player” – just don’t do it. It is illegal to not pay an hourly worker for time they have worked. Every hour you work off the clock reduces your hourly wage.

In New Hampshire, most hourly employees also get “reporting time pay.” This means that if you are scheduled to work a shift, show up, and the boss tells you there’s not enough work and sends you home, the business is required to pay you for two hours. Put in for it. The exception is if they tried in good faith to reach you and tell you not to come in before you showed up. 

If you are sent home before you’ve worked two hours for a shift that was supposed to be longer, they are also required to pay you for two hours. The exception is if they told you in advance (not when you showed up, but in advance of you showing up) that the shift was going to be less than two hours. 

3. Negotiate your pay before starting.

I almost hesitate to include this – many women and other marginalized workers are told that the reason they are making less money than their no-more-qualified white male coworker is because they didn’t negotiate better pay. It turns out that even when women, people of color and LGBTQ+ workers DO negotiate, they still get paid less for the same work than their male coworkers. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try.

It also doesn’t hurt to ask, when you interview, what others make in the position you’re interviewing for, if there are similar positions at the company. The employer may lie to you. Even so, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. It puts them on notice that you’re alert and not a pushover. If you don’t scare them off and you get the job, you still may end up getting less than your white male equally qualified coworker and not realize it, but the more people who do it, the more employers may take notice.

4. Dodge the pay history question

Many states have laws that prohibit an interviewer from asking what your previous salary was. New Hampshire isn’t one of them. That said, you don’t have to answer. I know you don’t want to turn off the interviewer, but try saying something like, “I’d much rather talk about the position I’m interviewing for.” Then add something like, “What is the pay range?” Or a question about the position that hasn’t been covered yet – it doesn’t have to be about pay.

While employers say the salary history question to “get an idea of the market,” that’s a smokescreen. If they’re hiring for a similar position, or in that field, they know darn well what the market pays. Even if they don’t, it’s immaterial. They want an idea of how low they can go pay-wise and still let you think you’re getting a good deal.

5. Be cynical

To build on the previous point – don’t believe everything you are told by your employer about equality in workplace pay unless they are providing across-the-board pay transparency. Only actual, official numbers mean anything. I’m not saying your employer is necessarily a liar, I’m just telling you to not take anyone at their word if you really do want to know if you are being treated equally. Yes, I am cynical, but it’s backed up by 40-plus years of workplace experience as well as experiences of family and friends. Employers have many reasons for not telling you the truth about pay, the biggest one being they are not paying people equally.

6. Know your rights as an employee

Knowledge is power. New Hampshire is one of eight states that has a fair pay law. I know! I was surprised, too! It’s not that radical, though. Some states have laws requiring employer pay transparency or banning questions about pay history. New Hampshire’s law simply echoes the federal law, but gives the state’s labor commissioner power to enforce it. Here’s what it says:

Employers or potential employers can’t discriminate, as far as wages go, based on sex or gender identity for substantially similar work (skills, effort, responsibility and similar working conditions). 

Employees are allowed to tell others at work what they make. They can’t be fired or disciplined because of it.

In New Hampshire, you can not be disciplined or fired for making an unfair wage charge against an employer, filing a complaint or your charge or complaint leads to an investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action related to equal pay either by the employer or by the government. You can also not get fired or disciplined for testifying, planning to testify, or participating in an investigation or other action regarding equal pay in your workplace.

If your employer gives you any guff if you bring up any of these rights, just point to the poster they’re required to have displayed in a prominent place that says:

“It is illegal in New Hampshire under both state and federal law to pay employees different wages for the same work based solely on sex. If you think that your employer has violated this provision, please contact the New Hampshire Department of Labor.”

By the way, the poster has the contact information for the state Department of Labor if you need to make a complaint. 

7. Stand up for your rights

If you believe you’re being paid less for the same work as an equally or less qualified coworker in a similar position, are the victim of wage theft, or have another labor complaint, advocate for yourself. Contact the New Hampshire Department of Labor. Document as much of the issue as you can to prove what you’re talking about (for instance, take a photo of the schedule in question, keep texts and emails from your boss or employer – any documentation that will prove your case).

If you have a discussion about unfair pay or practices with your employer in person, back it up with an email that says, “I’d just like to confirm what we talked about…” Repeat what you said and what you perceived their response to be and ask, “Is this accurate?” If they respond that it’s not, but don’t elaborate, ask them to. Anyone can dispute a verbal conversation, it’s harder to say one didn’t happen when it’s in writing.

While it’s scary to take on your employer, the only way discrimination will end in the workplace is for employers to be held accountable.

8. Look for a union job

I know you hear a lot of bad things about labor unions. If you’ve worked for a national chain, your onboarding likely included a scary video about how bad they are and how great you’ll be treated, so you don’t need one.

Labor unions aren’t scary at all. They’re simply a way for employees as a group to join together to advocate for themselves. They sign a contract, which is an agreement between the union and the employer, on wages, pay scale, grievance procedures, job bidding rights and other protections. A contract doesn’t “belong” to the union, it’s an agreement between the workers and employer, and belongs to both of them.

Unions are not perfect. They’re only as strong as their representatives and the contract. But almost all unions offer some general provisions:

  • Wage transparency
  • Specifics on work scheduling
  • Job bidding procedures
  • A procedure to make a complaint
  • Protection if you’re treated unfairly

If your employer says its workers don’t need a union because they are treated well and fairly, have the company put its money where its mouth is. Ask it to institute a pay transparency policy to prove they are not discriminating.

By the way, it’s against federal law to be disciplined or fired, interrogated, threatened or intimidated if you are discussing unions or unionizing at work. Your employer may say you can’t talk about it while you’re on the clock – and this is true, as long as you’re also not allowed to talk about other non-work things on the clock. If you can talk about “Game of Thrones,” the Red Sox, where the best fried clams in town are, how cute your boss’s new baby is or anything else, you can also talk union.

9. Move on up the road

I know it’s easy to say “change jobs.” It’s a lot harder to do it. One benefit of the times we live in is that there are a lot of vacant positions out there. If you aren’t being paid, or treated, fairly at your current position keep looking until you find an employer that will value you as a worker and human being. One that puts their resources behind that philosophy by paying you as much as your equally qualified coworkers.

If you are in a position to, consider moving to a state that has a higher minimum wage. New Hampshire’s minimum wage is the federal $7.25. Maine pays $12.75, Massachusetts pays $14.25 and Vermont pays $12.55. If you’re working in Vermont 40 hours a week, making minimum wage, that’s another $212 a week. If you’re in Maine it’s $220 a week. In Massachusetts, it’s $280 a week. States that have higher minimum wages also have higher wages in general, to keep up.

This may not do a lot to close the gender wage gap overall, but it may close your personal wage gap. And if enough people follow the money, it may also send a signal that $7.25 an hour just doesn’t cut it.

10. Don’t believe the bull

You may hear people say the gender wage gap isn’t about discrimination, but about women choosing to go into lower-paying work, or to become a parent (funny how parenthood doesn’t affect male wages). 

The Institute for Women’s Policy research says the gap itself is a benchmark, and the focus should be on ways to close it. That includes the discrimination that leads to many of the “choices” women make, including going into fields that are more likely to hire women.

“‘Choice’ is an unverified assumption,” the IWP points out. “There is considerable evidence of barriers to free choice of occupations, ranging from lack of unbiased information about job prospects to actual harassment and discrimination in male-dominated jobs.”

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that after factoring in things that cut into a woman’s productivity – like having a baby or taking a break to raise kids – 38 percent of the gross wage gap remains unexplained. Segregation by industry, as well as occupational segregation – women working in lower-paid jobs that are typically done by women, and men working in higher-paying jobs typically done by men — are responsible for half the wage gap, the IWP says.

So, another thing you can do to help close the wage gap is advocate for paid child leave and child care policies that will make it easier for mothers to work, better STEM education for girls and women, calling out employer bias when you see it, and more. 

Ultimately, it’s up to employers, state and federal governments to close the gap. It’s up to everyone who believes in a fair workplace – of every gender and color – to work on making it happen.


 

About this Author

maureenmilliken

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.