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What is a comparator in the workplace?

Often, workers may suspect discrimination in the workplace, but may be uncertain how to prove whether it is happening to them. The most common situation in which discrimination goes unnoticed is in the context of wage and salary disparities among workers. For many reasons, employees rarely discuss their salaries with each other. In some cases, employees do not want to brag about their earnings or may be embarrassed by how little money they believe they make. In other cases, employees simply view discussing salaries as impolite. However, comparing salaries can help you uncover workplace pay discrimination.

Under the federal Equal Pay Act, it is illegal for an employer to pay a member of one gender less money than a member of another gender where both employees perform similar work. Statistics tell us that women are largely underpaid in the workforce, making roughly 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. This gap widens for minority women who earn just 66 cents on the dollar compared to white male employees performing the same work. However, few gender pay claims ever come to court. To prove an equal pay act claim, an employee who suspects a gender pay disparity must seek out and find a comparator.

The Definition of a Comparator

For an aggrieved employee to file a claim under the Equal Pay Act, the employee must first identify a workplace comparator. A comparator is a person with whom the employee can compare his or her salary to determine whether they are equal or not. An example of an ideal comparator for a female desk clerk would be a male desk clerk with exactly the same job title and job responsibility. If the employee determines that her comparator makes more money than she does despite being otherwise an identical employee, the employee can file an Equal Pay Act claim.

Same Work vs. Similar Work

A comparator must generally have the same job title and workplace responsibilities as the employee claiming an Equal Pay Act violation. That does not mean, however, that the employees must have exactly identical titles and responsibilities. Instead, employees must find comparators with very similar titles and responsibilities. The more similar the jobs and responsibilities of the comparator, the more successful the Equal Pay Act claim will be.

For example, if a man and a woman work together at a reception desk in an office building, the fact that the female employee might answer most of the phone calls and the male employee might accept most of the postal deliveries does not really matter. This is because both employees in the example are essentially performing the same work. Contrast this situation with a female receptionist and a male office clerk whose responsibility is to provide coffee to the executives and transcribe notes of important meetings. In this second example, one employee is not a good comparator for the other because their responsibilities are very different, even though they are both low-level employees within the same organization.

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