A Call to HR Professionals: Expose and Close Pay Gaps

| Jul 14, 2020 | Employment Law

Year after year, various studies report that women earn about 80 percent of what men earn on average. The gap is even greater for nonwhite women, particularly Black and Latina women. These gaps have not narrowed since the last recession and are at risk of increasing because of the Coronavirus-induced recession.

HR professionals are uniquely positioned to help

HR professionals are often in the best position to help women achieve pay equity. Employees generally do not know what their coworkers make and many in America view it as taboo to ask them. And due to employer confidentiality policies, female employees cannot find out how their pay compares to that of their male colleagues. But HR personnel at companies uniquely have access to employee pay data.

Thus, HR professionals are often in the best position to expose and close pay gaps. And women need HR to be more aggressive in doing so. Gone should be the days when HR protects their companies’ pay inequities from disclosure, analysis, and remediation.

Time for a greater push towards pay equity

If women are going to make more progress on moving the needle on pay equity, we need HR professionals to push for reform. Just like companies espouse diversity in hiring as “the right thing to do,” equalizing pay is the right thing to do.

Employers often resist adjusting pay to close disparities. They think it might result in claims of discrimination being filed. But many employees will happily accept a wage increase without filing a claim that a past disparity was unlawfully discriminatory; the wage adjustment is enough. Employers can also explain wage adjustments in ways that result in positive change without litigation. Grateful employees tend not to sue but stay and work harder – additional benefits that outweigh the cost of pay adjustment.

HR Professionals should insist on pay audits. Many companies conduct internal audits at annual review time when wage and salary increases are contemplated. Audits often show disparities in what employers are paying employees for equal or substantially equal work. Sometimes statistical experts can explain those disparities by factors other than gender (or race), such as experience, education, and pay history (prior higher compensation). Sometimes they cannot. But even when prior experience or prior pay can explain a pay difference, that should not stop HR from advocating for pay adjustments that close or narrow the gap. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently recognized, prior pay can be a product of historical discrimination and not a “factor other than sex.” HR should ask those managers making pay decisions does the factor really justify a pay difference.

Companies can directly reduce inequality

Companies are increasingly nimble, even now. They can cover equal pay by cutting costs or increasing productivity through technology. In response to the antiracist movement gaining steam in response to the police killing of George Floyd, many companies have pledged millions to nonprofit organizations working for racial equity. Companies can use some of that money to directly reduce inequity by raising employee wages. They can start with our Black and Brown sisters.


Written by: Laura Lindner

For more than 27 years, Laura has represented employers in employment litigation cases. She is a tenacious and successful litigator who has tried many cases throughout the country and has resolved many disputes through tough, skilled negotiation. She is known for providing clients excellent advice, unmatched service, and steadfast emotional support throughout difficult employment situations.