For decades, workers in California have turned to the Equal Pay Act for protection when employers unfairly pay their employees less than employees of the opposite sex. In 2015, the state significantly expanded workers’ rights with the signing of the California Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the Equal Pay Act and became effective on Jan. 1, 2016. Subsequent amendments since then have further clarified issues that are important to fair pay, including the definition of “similar work” and the disclosure of pay information.
Fair pay laws extend beyond sexual bias
The California Equal Pay Act originally sought to correct discrepancies in pay between men and women performing similar jobs. In recent years, protections have been expanded to also protect against unequal pay based on racial or ethnic differences.
“Equal work” replaced with “substantially similar work”
Originally, the language in the Equal Pay Act referred to “equal work.” Amendments to the law have changed “equal work” to “substantially similar work” as the standard for comparing different workers’ wages or salaries. Two positions could be viewed as substantially similar when they require the equivalent application of skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. Amendments to the law have also removed the requirement that the jobs being compared have to be at the same workplace.
Employees have greater access to pay information
California law recognizes that workers may not know that they are the victim of unfair pay if they cannot access information about their co-workers’ pay. As an employee, you have a right to ask your colleagues about their pay or disclose your own pay information to co-workers. Employers who discipline people for discussing their pay could be subject to legal action for retaliation. Additionally, employers are prohibited from relying on an employee’s prior salary to justify sex-, race- or ethnicity-based pay difference.
Learn about your rights
If you suspect that your employer has paid you less based on your gender, race or ethnicity, speak with an employment law attorney about your rights and options. An experienced employment law attorney is best positioned to identify any violations, as well as calculate the amount of unpaid wages potentially recoverable through legal action.