Originally published in the November 21, 2018 issue of ROI-NJ
According to statistics, women in New Jersey are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. Until recently, New Jersey’s pay equity protections mirrored those of the Federal Equal Pay Act of 1963, mandating equal pay for men and women performing “equal work.” Under these laws, pay disparities could only be justified if the differential was based on a bona fide seniority or merit system, or “any factor other than sex,” an exception that gave employers significant room to defend wage disparities by pointing to the applicant’s pay history or other factors unrelated to gender.
With the passage of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act in March 2018, New Jersey now takes a more aggressive approach towards eradicating pay disparities. While principally aimed at the gender wage gap, the act applies to all protected classes, thereby paving the way for disparate wage claims on the basis of race, age and any other status protected by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. In addition, employees can point to higher rates being paid to counterparts outside the protected class who are engaged in “substantially similar work,” as compared to the narrower “equal work” standard under prior law. “Substantially similar work” will be viewed “in light of the employees’ skills, effort and responsibility.” Because there are no regulations interpreting this ambiguous phrase, employers must look beyond mere job titles to all aspects of all positions to identify those that involve “substantially similar work.”