Human Resources

Equal Pay Based on Skill, Experience, or Gender?

We have a male manager at one convenience store, and female managers at the others. They were all hired by the main office who set their compensation, etc. The convenience store with the male manager has a deli, and he oversees about 13 employees (with maybe 2-4 working per shift). The stores managed by the females do not have delis, and there is usually only one person working per shift (4 employees total for those stores). Other than this, all job duties are the same…they all had authority to hire/fire employees (up until we decided to start doing the hiring in the main office), they were all responsible for doing ordering for the stores, etc. The deli and number of employees were the only difference.

The male manager makes about $4 more per hour than the female managers. The female managers have been managers for longer than the male employee has even worked for us.

Are these jobs substantially equal enough that we need to see about equalizing their pay, or is the difference in managing the deli/more employees enough to justify the difference in pay? I would just like a few opinions before I approach our owners about this.


The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment. The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. It is job content, not job titles, that determines whether jobs are substantially equal. Specifically, the EPA provides that employers may not pay 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 within the same establishment. Each of these factors is summarized below:

  • Skill
    Measured by factors such as the experience, ability, education, and training required to perform the job. The issue is what skills are required for the job, not what skills the individual employees may have. 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.
  • Effort
    The amount of physical or mental exertion needed to perform the job. For example, suppose that men and women work side by side on a line assembling machine parts. The person at the end of the line must also lift the assembled product as he or she completes the work and place it on a board. That job requires more effort than the other assembly line jobs if the extra effort of lifting the assembled product off the line is substantial and is a regular part of the job. As a result, it would not be a violation to pay that person more, regardless of whether the job is held by a man or a woman.
  • Responsibility
    The degree of accountability required in performing the job. For example, a salesperson who is delegated the duty of determining whether to accept customers’ personal checks has more responsibility than other salespeople. On the other hand, a minor difference in responsibility, such as turning out the lights at the end of the day, would not justify a pay differential.
  • Working Conditions
    This encompasses two factors: (1) physical surroundings like temperature, fumes, and ventilation; and (2) hazards.
  • Establishment
    The prohibition against compensation discrimination under the EPA applies only to jobs within an establishment. An establishment is a distinct physical place of business rather than an entire business or enterprise consisting of several places of business. In some circumstances, physically separate places of business may be treated as one establishment. For example, if a central administrative unit hires employees, sets their compensation, and assigns them to separate work locations, the separate work sites can be considered part of one establishment.

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.

In correcting a pay differential, no employee’s pay may be reduced. Instead, the pay of the lower paid employee(s) must be increased.


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