We've come a long way, baby, from first starting to work outside the home in the 19th century to present-day, when women are running boardrooms and holding some of the highest offices in our country. Along with this progression have come laws to support female advancement in the workforce and provide women with equal pay, protection from harassment and discrimination, and more.
Let's take a look at seven laws that have had the greatest impact on working women.
- Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 – under the EPA, men and women doing substantially the same job in the same workplace must be equally paid. The law doesn't just apply to salary or hourly wage, but also includes overtime, bonuses, stock options, benefits, vacation and holiday pay, and profit-sharing plans. When alleging a violation, one may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or go straight to court. Efforts to close the ages-old gender pay gap ramped up during World War II, but it wasn't until President Kennedy signed the EPA that pay equity became law.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, prohibits discrimination based on sex. It also protects women from sexual harassment in the workplace. The original law, passed in 1964, did not include women. Sex didn't become a protected class under Title VII until 1967. Sexual discrimination is now afforded all the same remedies as other protected classes, including compensatory and punitive damages for intentional discrimination.
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 – the PDA prohibits sex discrimination in employment and hiring on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to either. It applies to promotions, job assignments, layoffs, training, and other aspects of employment. The Act also requires companies that offer disability leave to temporarily disabled employees to extend the same policy to women who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy.
- Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 – whereas the PDA prohibited discrimination against pregnant women, it wasn't until 1993 and the passage of the FMLA that certain female employees of qualifying employers were legally assured up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for childbirth as well as caring for a newborn or adopted child.
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 – as the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama, this act resets the two-year statute of limitations for an equal pay complaint with each new paycheck. Prior to the Act, the statute of limitations began with the first paycheck when unequal pay took place. If a woman had been unequally paid for three years but only found out about it with her most recent paycheck, she couldn't file a claim under the old rules because the two-year statute had expired.
- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for up to one year following the birth of her child. The Act also requires employers to provide a shielded space, other than a bathroom, for women to express milk. The law applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
- Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 – in this legislation, Congress took the issue of sexual harassment and discrimination to the corporate tax return. For years, payments to settle sexual harassment claims have been considered a deductible business expense, even if they contained a nondisclosure agreement and remained a secret to the public and shareholders. In an effort toward more disclosure and clarity of sexual harassment and discrimination charges, the TCJA made settlements with nondisclosure agreements nondeductible.
At Barrett & Farahany, we are happy to answer any questions about equal pay, Title VII and sexual discrimination, policies toward pregnancy and childbirth, and other laws and gender-related issues primarily affecting women. If you or anyone you know is looking for answers, please contact us to speak to one of our attorneys.