Once again taking the lead where the dysfunctional U.S. Congress failed to do so, California’s legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown – with significant lobbying from the Teamsters and other unions – pushed through a strong equal pay law that brings fairness of all workers.
|Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in October.|
The California law expands federal equal pay rights by mandating that employers pay workers, regardless of sex or gender, equally for “substantially similar” work, not just strictly equal work. Federal courts have been increasingly strict in deciding what is “equal work” the federal law covers. They’ve turned most such pay discrimination cases down.
The California law also strengthens worker protection against employer retaliation and requires firms to keep employment records, including pay records, for three years, not two.
A legal summary says California bans paying workers of the opposite sex less for "substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility." And the employer must take account of "similar working conditions," not just wages at the worksite or company branch involved.
California employers could still discriminate in pay, but only if they can show the wage differences “are due to a seniority system, merit system, a system that measures the quantity or quality of production, or a ‘bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience,’" the law adds.
And if they cite those reasons, they must be directly job-related – and show that the factor that produces wage discrimination is “consistent with business necessity." The new law then gives workers a defense against business necessity by showing “an alternative business practice exists that would serve the same purpose without producing the wage disparity.”
The California law also bans employers from retaliating against workers who disclose their own wages, discuss other workers’ wages, ask about others’ wages or help other workers exercise their rights. But if the worker asks about wages, the
employer can refuse to answer.
If the employer is guilty of breaking the law, the worker gets back pay plus interest, an equal amount in damages, and attorney’s fees.