Law Office of Jeffrey D. Fulton

Understanding California’s Fair Pay Act

Understanding California’s Fair Pay Act

Beginning January 1, 2017, California workers gained additional guarantees of equal pay for equal work. As the California Department of Industrial Relations explains, the California Equal Pay Act, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2015, prohibits employers from paying workers of one sex less than workers of the opposite sex who perform substantially the same work.

However, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that two new amendments to the law strengthen the equal pay provisions. They now apply to race and ethnicity as well as to gender. In addition, employers are now prohibited from retaliating against employees who ask questions about co-workers’ salaries and/or who discuss salaries with other employees.

Substantially similar work

Substantially similar work is determined using the following four criteria:

  • Skill
  • Effort
  • Responsibility
  • Similar working conditions

Skill means the education, training, ability and experience an employee needs to perform the job. Effort means the amount of physical and/or mental energy the job requires. Responsibility means the number of duties and/or the level of accountability inherent in the job description. Working conditions mean the physical surroundings in which the job is performed, such as if the temperature is unusually hot or cold, the amount of ventilation available, and whether or not any fumes or other hazards are present.

Proving an Equal Pay Act claim

Employees who believe they have been unfairly paid must be able to prove that they were paid less than one or more other employees of a different race, ethnicity or gender who performed substantially similar work. To defeat the claim, the employer must be able to prove that such wage disparity was due to a “bona fide factor” unrelated to race, ethnicity or gender, such as production, merit or seniority. The employer also must prove that these factors were reasonably applied and were the only factors accounting for the pay difference.


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