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What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap is the result of historical biases that placed a higher value on work performed by men than work performed by women. The pay gap refers to the differing amounts of money men and women are paid for the same work. Today, the effects of the past and many of the same biases still result in employers offering women less money for the same work.

Despite state and federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender and specific laws prohibiting gender pay discrimination, on average, women earn 84 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Fortunately, now both employers and regulators pay close attention to gender pay gaps. Some salary transparency laws require employers to disclose pay ranges, while others permit employees to freely discuss pay in the workplace. There are also financial incentives built into the law for employers who conduct a pay audit to correct a gender pay gap.

How can I identify a gender pay gap at my employer?

Identifying a gender pay gap at your employer can be a complex and stressful process for individual workers. Employees often feel afraid to speak up about discrimination of any sort, and this feeling is even more pronounced when the discrimination is not obvious.

Employees do have rights and can take action to figure out whether their employer is paying them fairly. Here are a few ways to determine if you work at a company with a gender pay gap:

  • Review your employer’s job descriptions for pay ranges. Employers that have pay ranges, and guidelines for how employees fit within those ranges, are more likely to offer fair compensation.
  • If you were asked to divulge your prior wage or salary history when you applied, and were offered pay in line with your history, but under market value.
  • If you feel comfortable asking co-workers, you may discuss your pay with others.
  • If you are part of a union, you may want to chat with a union representative.
  • Talk to your manager, or ask a human resources department representative about pay or for data from a pay audit, if one has been done.
  • You may contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the agency in your state tasked with enforcing state civil rights or labor laws, to ask them to start an investigation.

While the law generally protects employees from retaliation for taking the above actions, it still is often quite stressful for employees to speak up. It can often help to talk to a lawyer before taking any action.

Can I ask my co-workers how much they make?

When determining whether there is a gender pay gap at your employer, you may want to ask your co-workers how much they are paid. Employees often worry that they will be disciplined or fired for doing so, however, employers are generally prohibited from doing so. If you harass your co-workers about their pay, or continue asking after a co-worker declines to answer, this, however, may lead to valid complaints.

Most private companies are subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which gives employees the right to discuss salary and wages with co-workers. In other words, your employer cannot forbid you from having discussions about pay. As an employee of a private company, you may discuss salary during or after work hours, without being disciplined or fired.

How can I get equal pay?

If you or other women are being paid less for doing the same type of work than employees who are men, there are some ways you can take action to correct the gender pay gap.

Ask for a pay equity audit

Pay equity audits help organizations achieve non-discriminatory pay. If your company has not completed a pay equity audit, it may not be a bad idea to ask. These may, however, take a long time to complete. A pay equity audit (PEA) compares the earnings of employees doing similar work, while accounting for certain differences, such as work experience and credentials. If any unjustified pay discrepancies emerge, then the organization may investigate the reasons for the difference in pay and adjust pay accordingly or as necessary.

Do your homework

In addition to a pay equity audit, you may research how positions such as yours are compensated locally and regionally. Online job boards or other employers often post salary ranges for specific positions, giving you insight into how much compensation you can expect. If you find that your pay is too low compared to others in similar positions with similar experience, talk to your manager or human resources department about a raise. 

When you ask for a raise, you may want to also present data on wage ranges in your area or even within your company, if you have talked to co-workers about pay.

Know your rights

Know your rights. For example, some states ban employers from asking about your salary history in interviews, which may lead to bias. States with salary history bans for all employers include: 

Additionally, you may work in a state or city that requires salary ranges to be posted for all open positions or upon request by the job applicant. For example, California was the first state to enact pay transparency laws in 2018, requiring employers to provide pay ranges for a specific position upon request after an applicant has completed the first job interview. California's Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed into law S.B. 1162 on Sept. 27, 2022, which requires employers with 15 or more employees to make salary range information available to employees and in open job postings. This law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. Washington also has pay transparency laws, where all employers in the state with 15 or more employees must disclose the wage scale or salary range for each posted position, while also listing the benefits and other compensation applicable to that job. This law also goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Finally, you have rights under anti-discrimination laws, such as Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). All of these federal laws prohibit compensation discrimination based on a job candidate’s or employee’s race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.

If you have more questions about the gender pay gap, or your pay in general, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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