How Does California’s Equal Pay Act Impact Your Compensation?
California passed the Equal Pay Act in 1949 in hopes of closing the wage gap between men and women. Unfortunately, the original law had significant loopholes.
To strengthen the Equal Pay Act, California enacted the Fair Pay Act in 2015.
This law, along with additional changes that came after it, significantly improved the chances of success for Californians pursuing wage and hour claims against their employers.
Who Does the Equal Pay Act Protect?
The California Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying some workers less than employees of the opposite sex “for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”
Though the law is gender-neutral, it was written to prevent employers from paying men more than women.
As amended, the Equal Pay Act now similarly protects employees of other races and ethnicities from being paid less than their coworkers for substantially similar work.
Both provisions apply to public and private employers.
What Protections Does the Updated California Equal Pay Act Provide?
Current California compensation laws provide strong tools for leveling the playing field.
Fair Pay Act
The Fair Pay Act closed loopholes in the original act that made it difficult for women to successfully sue their employers.
For example, it changed the Equal Pay Act definition so that it covers “substantially similar work” instead of “equal work.” This makes clear that what matters is the nature of the work, not the job title.
Under the current law, workers also do not need to compare themselves to others located in the exact same establishment.
That means you can see if the women in your factory make the same amount as the men in the factory across town that the same company owns.
To provide a way to evaluate wage differences, the law now requires employers to keep wage and wage scale records for three years instead of two.
Finally, employees no longer need to prove that the employer had a discriminatory intent.
Instead, the burden is on the employer to explain why it is paying the employee less than other employees of different sex, race, or ethnicity.
California Labor Code § 432.3
California Labor Code § 432.3 provides new leverage during salary negotiations. Specifically, it:
- Bars employers from asking about your prior salary; and
- Requires employers to provide pay scales (wage ranges) upon reasonable request.
These rules prevent your boss from making your new salary artificially low because your old one was based on discriminatory standards.
Can an Employer Ever Justify Unequal Wage Rates?
An employer can justify paying some employees less if the wage difference is based on one or more of the following:
- A seniority system,
- A merit system,
- A system that measures earnings by production quantity or quality, or
- A bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity (e.g. education, training, or experience).
The difference also must relate to the job and be consistent with a business necessity.
If another business practice would achieve the same business goal without producing a wage difference, it is not a business necessity.
Finally, the justification has to be reasonable and account for the entire salary difference.
Can I Compare Wages with My Coworkers?
Yes. Your employer cannot discipline you for disclosing how much you make or talking to coworkers about their wages.
Can My Boss Retaliate Against Me for Talking to Coworkers or Filing a Complaint?
No. The Equal Pay Act expressly prohibits retaliation.
What If I Have Questions?
Ottinger Employment Lawyers can help you figure out if you have a California Equal Pay Act claim.
For over twenty years, we have represented everyone from sanitation workers to rock stars in compensation disputes. Let us pursue the fair compensation you deserve. Contact us today to get started!