Wage inequity is a real problem that negatively affects women and individuals of various races and ethnicities. There is no reason to pay a female employee with the same (or better) qualifications any less than her male counterpart. The same principle applies to non-white employees.

Employers in the State of California are prohibited from paying unequal wages to their employees based on sex, race, and/or ethnicity. Employers are also prohibited (with one exception) from asking job applicants about their salary history. Additionally, employers are now required to provide a job applicant with its pay scales upon request by the applicant

In 1949, the State of California enacted the Equal Pay Act. It stated, “No employer shall pay any individual in the employer’s employ at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on jobs.” Unfortunately, for many years, employers were ignoring this law. In 2015, the State of California signed the Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the Equal Pay Act. In 2016, the State amended the Equal Pay Act to include race and ethnicity as protected categories. In 2016, the State amended the law again to apply to public employers.

The Equal Pay Act requires employers in California to pay employees who perform “substantially similar work.” “Substantially similar” means work that is mostly similar in skill, effort, responsibility, and performed under the same working conditions.

Employers are allowed to pay employees who perform “substantially similar work” if they can prove that the different in pay is because of (1) seniority, (2) merit, (3) a system that measures production, and/or a “bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity” (i.e., education, training, or work experience).

Employees must file a claim within two years from the date that their Employers violates the Fair Pay Act. Therefore, it is extremely important for employees to seek advice of an experienced labor and employment attorney as soon as they suspect that an employer is violating the Fair Pay Act. Lastly, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for “any action taken by the employee to invoke or assist in any manner” to enforce the law’s provisions.