October 13, 2015.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report this year, women in California who work full time are paid substantially less than men, a median 84 cents on the dollar. The gender pay gap has been a widely reported problem and for years been the subject of various federal and state laws. On October 6, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Fair Pay Act, Labor Code § 1197.5, to strengthen California state law prohibiting gender-based pay discrimination.

The new law amends the California Equal Pay Act, previously enacted in 1949, which for decades has required gender pay equity. That law stated 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 new amendment strengthens the Equal Pay Act in a number of ways and makes California’s law regarding gender pay equity perhaps the toughest in the country.

Effective January 1, 2016, the new law requires equal pay for employees who perform “substantially similar work,” when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility. The new statute eliminates the requirement that the employees being compared work at the “same establishment.” Accordingly, the new law requires equal pay for substantially similar work, regardless of job titles or whether the employees at issue work at different sites. The statute also makes it more difficult for employers to justify inequities in pay through the “bonafide factor other than sex” defense. It also ensures that any purported legitimate factors relied upon by the employer to justify pay inequities are applied reasonably and account for the entire pay difference. The law explicitly states that retaliation against employees who seek to enforce the law is illegal, and makes it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their co-workers’ wages. The statute also extends the number of years that employers must maintain wage and other employment records from two to three years.

Companies should be sure to take note of the new law and reevaluate their pay practices accordingly. If you are a female worker, know your rights under the new law. Do not settle for pennies on the dollar of what you should be paid. Consider: Are you performing substantially similar work as male colleagues? Do you know what both you and your male colleagues are being paid? Are you being paid less? Have you been able to discuss salary issues with your colleagues, or has your employer in any way prevented or prohibited you from doing so? If the answer to any of these questions leads you to believe that you are being paid less than male colleagues performing substantially similar work, your employer may be in violation of the Fair Pay Act and you may have a claim. Gender pay equity issues are often widespread in the case of companies with large workforces, and significant numbers of other female employees may also be suffering the same or similar issues. In those cases, class action treatment may be appropriate.

To find out more on any of these issues, please contact our offices: Wucetich & Korovilas LLP; (310) 335-2001; dimitri@wukolaw.com. This article is for educational use only, should not be considered legal advice, and in no way creates an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader.