A Brief Overview of Pay Equity History in the U.S.

A Brief Overview of Pay Equity History in the U.S.

A Brief Overview of Pay Equity History in the U.S.

The labor laws we know today are a culmination of changes which have taken shape throughout the last century. Certain specific federal and state legislative activities are in large part responsible for the way we approach compensation today. Let’s take a moment to break down a few standout moments in the history of pay equity.

  • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938
    Enacted nearly 80 years ago, this act introduced the 40-hour work week. It’s also known as the Wages and Hours Bill, and is a federal statute which established a national minimum wage and “time-and-a-half” overtime pay for specific jobs. It also prohibited most forms of employment for minors.

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
    This act prevents against employer’s discrimination of employees based on sex. It prohibits employees from being paid less than the rate of employees of the opposite sex for equal work requiring the same level of skill, effort, and responsibility, performed under similar working conditions.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Just a year later, Title VII was introduced to prevent employment discrimination on the bases of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, as well as state, local, and federal governments.


  • National Equal Pay Day: 2000
    In 2000, President Bill Clinton proclaimed May 11th National Equal Pay Day. With this proclamation, President Clinton urged employers to review their wage practices to ensure pay equity, and encouraged business leaders and the U.S. population in general to recognize the value of women’s skills and contributions in the workforce.


  • The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act: 2009
    Under the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed by Congress in 2009, each discriminatory paycheck resets the 180-day limit for the employee to file a claim. This was an update to the original pay laws, which pertained only to the original decision to discriminate. The Act thus helped to ensure that any individual subjected to unlawful pay discrimination would be able to assert their rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.


  • Pay Equity: 2014
    In April of 2014, President Obama signed a memorandum and executive order to address race and gender-based pay disparities. It directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to propose a rule within 120 days requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to submit summary data on employee compensation by race and sex to the DOL using a tool developed by the agency.

Pay equity is an important part of any compensation plan. By familiarizing yourself with applicable compensation laws, you can ensure your organization is doing its part to enforce equal pay, which can also help you prepare for any future changes to labor laws.

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