• Dean Royer

Equal pay act strengthened

California’s Equal Pay Act strengthened.

California employees now have stronger protections against pay discrimination based on sex. Effective January 1, 2016, California’s equal pay law (Labor Code section 1197.5) was changed in several significant respects.

First, the standard for comparison changes from looking at the pay of women and men “in the same establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility” to “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.” While courts had interpreted the old standard of “equal” work to mean substantially equal, the new standard will likely allow for a broader comparison of jobs.

Second, an exception to the rule—a bona fide factor other than sex—has been limited. In order for the exception to apply, the employer must show that the factor is job related with respect to the position and is consistent with a business necessity. Also, this exception will not apply if the employee demonstrates that an alternative business practice that serves the same purpose would not produce a difference in pay.

Third, employers must now maintain pay records for three years instead of only two under the old law.

Fourth, the law now includes an anti-retaliation section. Employers may not retaliate against employees who (1) participate in the enforcement of the law, (2) discuss their pay or the pay of co-workers, or (3) help or encourage co-workers to exercise their rights under the law. Remedies include reinstatement, reimbursement for lost wages and benefits, and interest, but not attorney fees. An employee may file a retaliation claim with the Labor Commissioner or in court. The time to file a court action is one year from when the retaliation occurred.


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