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Op-Ed: Pay equity — A guide for employers in Puerto Rico

The legal framework
The framework governing equal pay in Puerto Rico is underpinned by both federal and state laws. At the federal level, there’s the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which mandates that employees must receive equal pay for equal work, irrespective of their gender. Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 plays a crucial role by prohibiting employment discrimination based on several factors including race, color, religion, sex and national origin, thereby broadening the scope of protection against workplace discrimination.

Puerto Rico has also taken steps to further the legal safeguards against wage discrimination with the enactment of Act 16 of 2017, known as the Equal Pay Act. This law not only prohibits wage discrimination based on gender but also mandates that employers ensure equal pay for comparable work.

There’s an additional layer of compliance for federal contractors, who are required to adhere to affirmative action principles overseen by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Federal contractors are mandated to conduct pay equity analyses to ensure compliance with affirmative action requirements.

Analyzing pay inequities
To accurately analyze pay disparities, utilizing statistical models is an imperative as they provide a structured approach to identifying and understanding wage gaps. These models help understand the probability of pay inequities being based on gender versus valid factors such as performance or time in job.

Multiple regression analysis
This model helps in understanding the relationship between several independent variables and a dependent variable, in this case, pay. By accounting for various factors like experience, education and job role, it helps isolate the impact of gender on pay. This test is typically used in groups where sample sizes exceed 30 employees.

The F-test is used to compare variances between groups, offering a statistical measure of the equality of variances. It’s useful in analyzing whether the variances in pay between male and female employees are statistically significant. This test tends to be used in smaller sample sizes, usually under 30.

Cohort analysis
Cohort analysis groups individuals with common characteristics and compares these cohorts over time. In the context of pay equity, it can compare groups based on gender within similar job roles or experience levels to ascertain any systemic pay disparities. Though not a statistically valid analysis, it can offer insights into compensation inequities in very small samples.

Consequences of noncompliance
Noncompliance with equal pay laws can have severe financial repercussions. Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where an employer has underpaid 30 women in a specific job role compared to their male counterparts by $3,000 per year from 2022 to the present. Assuming a simple scenario without considering other factors such as interest or additional damages, the financial liability for this employer can be calculated as follows:

  • Number of Affected Employees: 30
  • Annual Pay Disparity per Employee: $3,000
  • Number of Years: (2023 – 2022) + 1 = 2
  • Total Liability = $180,000

This figure represents a significant financial burden, and it only accounts for a single job role. If such disparities exist across multiple roles, the financial liability could be substantially higher. Moreover, this amount does not include potential legal fees, fines or any other costs associated with litigation or regulatory penalties, which could further escalate the financial implications.

Additionally, any reputational damage and the potential loss of trust from employees and the public could have long-lasting adverse effects on the organization. This hypothetical scenario underscores the critical importance of adhering to equal pay laws and proactively working to eliminate pay disparities within the organization. 

Through diligent analysis and proactive measures, employers can significantly mitigate the risks associated with noncompliance, fostering a more equitable and compliant workplace.

Author Robert Newland is public speaker and CEO of Newland HR Services, a human resources and executive search firm serving customers in Puerto Rico, the mainland, U.S. and Latin America. He is also a contributing writer for FastCompany and Newsweek.

Self-assessment guide
Employers can follow these seven steps to self-assess and ensure adherence to equal pay principles:

  • Understand the Legal Landscape: Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws governing equal pay.
  • Collect and Analyze Data: Gather comprehensive data regarding employee compensation and conduct rigorous statistical analyses to identify any significant pay disparities.
  • Engage External Experts: Consult with legal and HR experts to understand the implications of your findings.
  • Develop a Corrective Action Plan: If discrepancies are found, devise a plan to rectify these inequities, including adjusting pay scales where necessary.
  • Implement Transparent Pay Policies: Establish clear, objective criteria for determining pay and promotions to prevent biases.
  • Educate Managers and Employees: Foster a culture of equity and inclusion by educating all stakeholders on equal pay laws and your organization’s policies.
  • Regular Monitoring and Auditing: Continually monitor pay practices and conduct periodic audits to ensure ongoing compliance.

Navigating the glaring evidence of pay gaps, employers, employees, and regulators can often find themselves at odds. Yet, by adhering to these steps, employers in Puerto Rico can work towards eliminating gender-based pay disparities, thus promoting a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

The journey toward equal pay requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, and a proactive approach by employers is crucial to making significant strides in achieving this objective.


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