“Wage gap” still an issue in Missouri workplaces

President Barack Obama brought up several notable topics in his January 2014 "State of the Union" address, including unemployment, clean energy, the decline of the middle class and veterans' affairs. Amongst other key issues, the President drew attention to the oft-overlooked problem of unequal wages between men and women. As he noted, even today, women make an average of 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns. This is verified by U.S. Census data.

In Missouri, the so-called "wage gap" is slightly less, with women making 78.5 cents compared to the dollar earned by a man. Still, the American Association of University Women reports that the average salary for a man in Missouri is $43,136 annually, while women bring home an average of only $33,865 annually. Women in the workplace have made great strides since the first federal "Equal Pay Act" was passed back in 1963, but the fact remains that there still are differences in the way in which males and females are treated on the job and how they are compensated for the work they do.

Such vast difference between wages for men and women in comparable positions could be indicative of gender or sex-based discrimination. That is not always the case, but it is definitely a possibility. Of course, outside factors that disproportionately concern women could also be affecting salaries, including:

  • Working shorter hours to spend more time with family
  • Taking time off for maternity leave (thus missing out on the seniority and job continuity that can lead to promotion
  • Being placed on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy (again, causing a lengthy time out of the workplace)
  • Taking positions with more scheduling freedom to accommodate family activities and quality time (these are often lower-paying jobs)

Of course, there are some workplaces in which pay gaps exist due to the presence of discrimination. In those workplaces, women will often handle the same tasks, in the same manner, and with an equal level of skill and productivity as a man, but still be paid less. Some women who stand up for their rights face punishment, termination or other forms of retaliatory, disparate treatment.

This has led many women to come to the conclusion that there is nothing they can do to address the wage gap issue. Thankfully, that is not the case. Women do have rights in the workplace. They have the right to work in an environment free of harassment and discrimination, the right to be fairly promoted in recognition of their efforts and the right to equal pay.

Have you been mistreated in the workplace because of your gender? Have your efforts to enact policy change been met with retaliatory action by your employer? Do you have questions about your rights as a Missouri employee? If so, consult an employment law attorney to learn more about this complex area of the law.