Know Your Rights

Workers are legally entitled to equal employment opportunities, including the right to earn a paycheck that is free from unlawful bias, and, in many cases, the right to discuss their pay with colleagues.

What are my rights under federal law to equal pay and compensation without discrimination?

Men and women must be paid equal wages if they perform substantially the same work under the Equal Pay Act:

"Equal pay" refers to more than just your paycheck. Under this law, all employers must provide employees within the same establishment whose jobs require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions “equal pay,” including: an equal salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses and benefits. Unequal compensation cannot be justified unless the employer shows that the pay differential is based on a fair seniority, merit or incentive system, or a factor other than sex.

Your employer may not legally discriminate against you on the basis of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (over 40). disability, or genetic information in any aspect of employment, including compensation, hours and benefits:

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, covered employers are generally prohibited from discriminating on any of these bases in any aspect of employment, including pay. The Equal Pay Act specifically prohibits paying men and women differently for the same work. All of these statutes are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Many states and cities have their own fair employment practices agencies that prohibit employment discrimination. Some of these laws cover employers that may not be covered by federal employment discrimination laws, and some cover additional bases such as sexual orientation, marital status, and veteran status.

If you have received an unfair paycheck within the last 180 days, you can file a discrimination charge with the EEOC:

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 clarified that each paycheck providing discriminatory compensation is a basis to make a claim under Title VII, regardless of when the discrimination began. Under the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, you have up to 180 days (300 days in some states, counties and cities) after the most recent paycheck that reflects unequal wages to file a charge with the EEOC.

If you work for a federal contractor, Executive Order (EO) 11246 prohibits your employer from discriminating in employment decisions, including compensation, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin:

If you work for a federal contractor or subcontractor and think you are being paid less than men who are similar to you (for example, they do similar work or have similar skills), or that an employment practice negatively affects your compensation based on your gender, you can contact the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in the U.S. Department of Labor for guidance or assistance. Such discriminatory pay is prohibited by EO 11246. This EO applies to a federal contractor, federally-assisted construction contractor, or a federal subcontractor with federal government contracts or subcontracts exceeding $10,000. OFCCP also enforces statutes that prohibit discrimination against employees of covered federal contractors based on status as a qualified individual with a disability or status as a protected veteran.

Most private sector employees have the right to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA):

Section 7 of the NLRA protects non-supervisory employees, who are covered by the Act, from employer retaliation when they discuss their wages or working conditions with their colleagues as part of an effort to improve them, even if there is no union or other formal organization involved in the effort. These employee rights are enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

If you believe your rights under the NLRA have been violated, or that an employer or a union has engaged in unlawful conduct, you may file a charge through one of NLRB’s regional offices.


Read the April 2015 Report

Share a Card