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Is the EEOC's proposal the answer to closing the pay gap?

Furor over unequal pay in the workplace has caused so much uproar in the last year that now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has decided to take action. In a proposed policy change, the EEOC will require employers with more than 100 employees to include employees' individual salaries, in addition to other demographic data, on their annual EEO-1 reports. Such a move could clarify how widespread the issue truly is.

Naturally, the proposal has sparked controversy between those representing the interests of employers and employees. Employers assert that the change will place an undue burden on their administrative costs, in addition to harming their ability to attract top talent. On the other side, many employee rights advocates see the move as a necessary step in the fight to enforce "equal pay for equal work" laws. Without such oversight, they argue, employers can continue to use secrecy about salaries to minimize their responsibility in continuing the gender pay gap.

The EEOC plans to use the data collected as a tool to flag and investigate companies suspected of wage discrimination. According to the Equal Pay Act, men and women must be paid equally for work requiring the same level of skill, effort and responsibility. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extends this idea to promote equality in other aspects of the workforce, such as opportunities for advancement, wage increases, types of jobs and performance evaluations.

Theoretically, this means that employees should be paid equally regardless of their gender. However, several studies have shown that wage discrimination based on gender continues to plague the American workforce. In his remarks related to the EEOC's announcement, President Obama reiterated the oft-quoted statistic that women typically earn 79 cents for every dollar that men earn.

The question remains whether the EEOC's move will actually lead to substantial changes in employment practices. After all, the proposal only aims to collect data on wages, which may be used for analysis by federal regulators, employers and other interested parties for research and enforcement. Acting on that data will likely still become the work of individuals who feel they have suffered discrimination on account of their gender.

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