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What Is California’s Equal Pay Act and Does it Impact Me?

November 16, 2020 Legal Team

Wage inequality is a form of workplace discrimination, and while it is illegal on both a state and federal level in California, wage gaps continue to persist to this day. The good news is that recent California legislation has improved the rights of women workers across the state by strengthening laws that make it illegal to pay unequal wages for the same job based on sex.

Timeline of California’s Equal Pay Laws

The state has been working toward establishing gender-specific equal pay laws for decades now. California’s first Equal Law Act was enacted back in 1949; as part of Labor Code section 1197.5, the legislation provided that:

“No employer shall pay any individual in the employer’s employ at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.”

Because of the vagueness and lack of specifications within the law’s wording, many employers were able to find loopholes in order to pay women less than their male counterparts while avoiding lawsuits. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women were still making about 80 cents for full-time, year-round work compared to every men’s dollar earned at work in 2015.

Recent Amendments to the Equal Law Act

California’s Equal Pay Act was amended by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2015 and the Fair Pay Act went into effect on January 1, 2016. The new bill replaced certain terms that were previously used by employers to justify wage gaps between men and women. Now, workers must have their work viewed as a whole to determine if equal pay is legally required, with such factors including:

  • Seniority
  • Merit
  • The measure of earnings by quality or quantity of production
  • Any other valid or “bona fide” factor other than sex

Essentially, the new law ensures that those who perform “substantially similar work” are paid equal wages. When viewed as a whole, factors that will be looked at when determining if the work is substantially similar include:

  • Skill
  • Effort
  • Responsibility
  • Working conditions

Fair wage protections were expanded even more as the bill removed the “same establishment” clause from the original Equal Pay Act, which meant that men and women only had to be paid equally at the same physical workplace. Now, employers must pay men and women the same amount not just at the same workplace but at any location for the same job.

One of the last prominent changes to the Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who discuss, disclose, or inquire about their wages or their co-workers’ wages.

How to Prove an Equal Pay Act Violation

According to the amended Equal Pay Act, employers must affirmatively demonstrate that any wage discrepancies between men and women performing the same job are based on one of the factors we listed above (seniority, merit, production-based work, or a “bona fide factor”).

California’s newest changes to the Equal Pay Act make it much more difficult to use the defense that a woman is making less than a man who is performing the same job for a “bona fide factor other than sex.” Now, this defense is only applicable if the wage differential was a “business necessity.” In other words, the defense cannot be used if the business could serve its same purpose without having sex-based differences in wages.

Protecting Your Rights to Equal Pay

If you believe that your rights under California’s Equal Pay Act have been violated, you have the right to file a claim against your employer—but it’s important to act fast. You have two years from the date of the violation to pursue legal action; if the violation was intentional, you have three years to file.

The sooner you talk to an attorney about your rights, the better chance your attorney will have at preserving the evidence needed to prove that you were paid unfairly based on your sex. Ultimately, employers who are found to be in violation of the Equal Pay Act will be responsible for paying the employee damages for:

  • The difference in wages
  • Interest
  • An equal amount as liquidated damages
  • The cost of attorney and legal fees

At Aegis Law Firm, we believe what the law holds to be true: all workers, no matter their sex or gender, should be paid equal wages for the same work. Our Orange County employment law attorneys are ready to stand in your corner and protect your rights until the very end.

For dedicated and experienced legal representation in your corner, call us at (949) 379-6250 or complete an online form today.