Q. Is it illegal to pay someone without a degree less than someone with the degree? In our case, two employees have the same title but do slightly different tasks. One has a bachelor’s in HR and the other does not. However, the one without a degree is doing all the HR duties and gets paid less than the one with a degree. The degreed employee doesn’t use her HR skills in her job at all. — D.K., Virginia
A. Neither federal nor state laws prohibit employers from paying different wages to workers with different qualifications. An employer may pay an experienced man a greater amount than a less experienced woman. The law protects workers from discrimination but does not micromanage businesses.
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibits employers from paying unequal wages to men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions in the same organization. It is job content, not job titles, that determines whether jobs are substantially equal.
For example, two bookkeeping jobs could be considered equal under the EPA even if one of the job holders has a master’s degree in physics, since that degree would not be required for the job.
Pay differentials are permitted when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than sex. These are known as “affirmative defenses,” and it is the employer’s burden to prove that they apply.
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