Equal Pay Act

The California Equal Pay Act prohibits pay differences based on sex, gender, race and ethnicity unless the employer proves valid (bona fide) other reasons that explain the full amount of the difference.

The key for the employee is to make sure that the job of the higher-paid person qualifies as “substantially similar work.” Substantially similar work means substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility. California Equal Pay Act laws also provide that the employee does not have to prove that a manager or the company was acting out of a biased motive.

Workplace Discrimination and Unequal Pay

California has some of the strongest equal pay laws in the country, and employers may face stiff penalties on top of unpaid wage damages. Employers can be on the hook even if they were not intending to discriminate. And, it is up to the employers to justify the pay differentials for workers doing the same or substantially similar work.

California employment discrimination law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on:

  • Race, color or ethnicity
  • National origin and ancestry
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Pregnancy (including childbirth, breastfeeding)
  • Disability and medical condition, mental and physical
  • Religion
  • Marital status

California employment discrimination law also prohibits employers from discriminating because of the employer’s perception that that the worker has a protected trait or because the worker has associated with or advocated for coworkers who have these protected traits.  

Employers that commit or fail to address discrimination in the workplace may be held accountable by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

California Equal Pay Act and the Right to Transparency

California workers also have the right to disclose their own wages and salaries. Gag rules cannot be imposed to bar employees from talking about their pay (or other working conditions). Employees also have the protected right to ask their companies for the salary scale that applies to them.

Employee Privacy and the California Equal Pay Act

Meanwhile, even when applying for a job, job applicants cannot be asked for their salary history information. Employers cannot use prior salary to justify sex, race or ethnicity-based pay differences.

Legal Ramifications of Violating the California Equal Pay Act

In California, workers can seek what is called liquidated damages, or double damages, as well as civil penalties, for violations of the California Equal Pay Act and Fair Pay Act. Employees must act soon to protect their rights, because each paycheck could trigger a deadline for legal action.

Our Experienced California Equal Pay Act Lawyers Can Help

Valerian Law is skilled and experienced at enforcing Equal Pay protections for California employees. If you believe that another worker of a different sex/gender or race/ethnicity was paid more for the same or substantially similar work, give us a call at 888-686-1918 and we will walk you through your legal options.

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