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Justify why similar work warrants different pay

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in Human Resources

If some of your employees perform similar jobs under different pay structures, make sure you can justify the differences with good, solid reasons that will stand up to a side-by-side comparison.

Here's why: One of your lower-paid workers may sue, alleging that the reason he receives less for nearly identical work has nothing to do with the job itself, but instead has to do with discrimination. You must be prepared at all times to show that's not the case.

Recent case: Clyde Zachery, who is black, worked as a teacher and supplemented his income with a position as the boys' basketball coach. The school district paid most coaches an extra $4,000 per year. However, the football coach received several extra paid days during the summer—the difference amounted to 40 days of pay, compared to 20 days.

Zachery sued, alleging that race was the underlying reason the football coach—who was not black—was paid more. The school district argued that the real reason was that football coaches work more days in the summer since football practice starts in August, while basketball and other sports don't start until after the school term begins.

But Zachery countered that basketball coaches work more days during the school term than football coaches do. He also pointed out that he did in fact coach basketball during the summer, even though the team members weren't required to attend.

The trial court said the school district hadn't justified the difference and said the case could go to a jury. (Zachery v. Crawford County Board of Education, No. 5:06-CV-314, MD GA, 2008)

Final note: Don't point to vague differences to justify a pay differential. Nail it down with specifics.

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