California Passes New Equal Pay Law

The gengavel over money istockder gap is alive and well in California. According to a 2014 study by the National Women’s Law Center, a woman working full time in California still earns only 84 cents for every dollar that a man makes. For women of color, the gap is even more significant. For example, a Latina woman earns only 44 cents for every dollar that a white man makes.

On October 6, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act into law. The new law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2016, expands on California’s Equal Pay Act of 1949 and makes it easier for women to challenge discriminatory pay practices.

California employers have long been required pay to men and women equally. However, in the past, this rule applied only when the man and woman performed “equal work” in the same location. The new law relaxes this requirement, requiring equal pay for “substantially similar” work, even if the employees work in different offices or locations. The new law also encourages an open discourse about wages: Employers are not allowed to prohibit employees from discussing their wages or retaliate against them for doing so.

Another significant change is that the law shifts the burden of proof to the employer. Once an employee challenges an unequal pay practice, the employer must prove that the difference in pay is due to a legitimate factor other than gender—such as seniority, qualifications, or the quantity or quality of work. If the employer isn’t able to meet its burden, the employee can recover the difference in wages plus interest, an equal amount in liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and cost.