What is the Equal Pay Protections Law and How You Are Affected?
For decades now, the California Equal Pay Act has prohibited employers from paying its employees less than employees of the opposite sex for equal work. However, in 2015, Governor Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the Equal Pay Act in a number of ways and signaled California’s commitment to achieving real gender pay equity. Despite this, wage gaps are still a very frustratingly real obstacle, with women and people of color statistically making less than their male counterparts in the same positions. According the National Partnership of Women and Families, women in California lose $87 billion to the pay gap every year.
Understanding the changes to the California Fair Pay Act and what they mean for you is essential to ensuring you are receiving a fair wage.
Understanding the California Equal Pay Act
Since 2018, the California Legislature has made a number of changes to the Equal Pay Act to strengthen it and afford additional rights to employees. Two primary changes were made to ensure further protection of employees who were suffering from continued violations of their rights to equal pay. The first alteration was created to reduce the number of hurdles an employee needed to get across simply to prove their rights had been infringed upon.
In the past, a female employee would have needed to prove that she had the exact same role and work as a male co-worker, but now she could only need to show her work was “substantially similar.” This was a critical step because employers had been giving women fake job titles that were inconsistent with the realities of their jobs to justify the fact that they were not being paid equally.
Now, the only way that an employer can pay different pay to employees of different gender or ethnicity is if the higher paid employee has:
- An otherwise non-discriminatory seniority-based pay system;
- An otherwise non-discriminatory merit-based pay system;
- An otherwise non-discriminatory production quantity or quality-based pay system;
- A bona-fide otherwise non-discriminatory factor that is consistent with business necessity, such as education, training, or experience.
Equal Versus Substantially Similar
Previously, for the Equal Pay Act’s terms to apply, two jobs’ work must be considered “equal.” In other words, you and your colleague must both have the same title job with the exact same job responsibilities for the equal wage laws to apply.
As of 2016, jobs need only be “substantially similar,” a lower threshold than “equal.” This means that not only do the job titles not have to be same, the responsibilities must only be comparable instead of identical.
The following factors contribute to establishing “substantially similar” work:
- Skill – experience, education, ability, and training
- Effort – physical and mental exertion required to competently perform job duties
- Responsibility – the extent of your position’s accountability or scope of work responsibilities
- Working Conditions – physical conditions of your work environment, including any hazards
How Does This Affect You
Sometimes you and a coworker may perform substantially similar work even if it is not immediately obvious. For example, if you are a woman employed as a “coordinator” at a marketing agency office, your male peer may be a “manager.” While your titles differ – and your male colleague’s title might even sound more important – your job responsibilities are extremely similar, to the extent you often divide and conquer tasks from the same pool of work assignments. Despite the fact that you each have a different title, there is a good chance you are entitled to the same salary as your male peer in this scenario. Both of your jobs require a similar level of skill, effort, and responsibility, with near-identical working conditions.
Title discrepancies can be a major factor in concealing wage gap violations. Offending employers can provide a different title to justify a higher salary for a particular employee, even if their work is substantially similar to others who are being paid less. You should pay attention to situations where an employee has an important title but otherwise appears to have the same work responsibilities as you.
Contact Us To Discuss Your Case
If you believe you have suffered a California Equal Pay Act violation or retaliation for exercising your employee rights, do not wait to act. You have two years from the date of the violation to file a claim. Each paycheck that reflects unequal pay is considered a violation for the purpose of calculating the deadline for filing. Call us at (562) 855-0004 to schedule a case evaluation.