What Are My Rights In California Regarding Gender And Equal Pay?

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Lauren Abrams - Employment & Labor - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Lauren Abrams

Located in Beverly Hills, CALaw Offices of Lauren Abrams

Beverly Hills, CA
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For decades, working professionals have been discriminated against simply because of their gender. A lot of us believe that the gender-based pay gap is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

In California, there is still a 20 cent per dollar pay discrepancy between genders. Fortunately, we have the lowest discrepancy in the nation and that is due to our state’s efforts to lower the gap.

There are two California laws that support equal pay: the California Equal Pay Act, which works with the national Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the California Fair Pay Act.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits employers from paying less money based on someone’s gender for equal work if the job requires “equal skill, effort and responsibility.” It allows employers to pay men and women differently when their salary is based on seniority, merit, quality or quantity of work and “bona fide factors other than sex, race or ethnicity.” Those factors include education, training or experience.

The California Equal Pay Act took the national act further, prohibiting employers from paying women less for “reasonably similar work.” In 2016, the California Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the law and helped to narrow the gap more was passed.

The California Fair Pay Act Made Significant Changes

Loopholes were removed from the previous act, including:

  • Substantially similar work (including skills, effort and responsibility) must be compensated equally.
  • Employees whose pay is compared do not have to work for the same employer.
  • Employers cannot justify pay inequities based on the “bona fide factor other than sex, race or ethnicity” defense.
  • Employers must base their pay on legitimate factors that are reasonably applied.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees.
  • It is no longer illegal for employees to discuss their pay with coworkers.
  • Employers are required to maintain wage and other employment-related records for three years instead of two years.

Since it went into effect, amendments were added with protections based on race and ethnicity. Employers also cannot use prior salary to justify sex, race or ethnicity-based pay discrepancies.

What are your requirements to file an Equal Pay Act claim?

  • You have two years from the date of the violation to file your claim, unless it is intentional.
  • If the company’s actions were intentional, employees have three years to file.
  • Each of your paychecks with the unequal pay is a violation.
  • You must file your Equal Pay Act claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office before an action in court can be filed.
  • The Labor Commissioner’s Office investigates and decides.
  • If a violation occurred, the employer will receive recommendations to fix the problem.
  • If corrections are not made, a civil action in court will be filed to try to recover your wages, interest and liquidation damages.
  • You can also file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), but it is not required if you are claiming unequal pay based on sex, race or ethnicity.
  • If you have additional claims based on sex, or another protected status, you can also file with the DFEH, which enforces the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
  • If your claim is confirmed, you can recover the difference in wages, interest and an equal amount of liquidated damages.
  • If you file in court, you might also be able to recover your attorney fees and costs.

You Are Protected Against Retaliation

Your employer cannot retaliate against you. If they do, you might have additional actions against them. You have six months from the date of the retaliation to file a claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. You have a year after the retaliation to file a civil action.

If your employer is paying you less based on your sex, race or ethnicity, and you feel you are not being paid properly or you are not receiving the same bonuses, put your complaint in writing and give it to a superior or human resources. Then call an employment law attorney to help protect your rights.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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