The California state legislature just a few weeks ago passed Senate Bill 358, also called the “Fair Pay Act.” This bill represents the greatest effort in recent years to finally close the pay gap between men and women. The bill passed unanimously in the state Senate, cruised through the state Assembly, and finally went to the governor’s desk for consideration. California Governor, Jerry Brown, is expected to sign the bill into law sometime this week.
The California legislature found that full-time female workers in their state earned about $33.6 billion dollars less than full-time male workers. This statistic translated to women in California earning approximately eighty-four cents to every dollar a man earned. The pay gap between men and women is even more significant when focusing on minority women. For example, in California, Spanish women only make forty-four cents to every dollar that Caucasian men earn.
Although a man and a woman may have different official job titles, if they perform substantially the same work as each other, they will have to be given equal pay.
By leveling the playing field, the Fair Pay Act, if signed into law by the governor, would represent the most comprehensive effort by any state in the nation to enforce equal pay between genders. The bill accomplishes this goal in a variety of ways. First, the standard under the Fair Pay Act requires that both men and women be given the same pay for performing “substantially similar work.” This means that although a man and a woman may have different official job titles, if they perform substantially the same work as each other, they will have to be given equal pay. The act also makes the location of the work irrelevant, thereby requiring all job sites to have matching pay for the same job duties.
Second, the Fair Pay Act applies to both public and private businesses, which will have a significant impact on workplaces within the state. Plaintiffs will ordinarily have two years to assert their rights to equal pay after a violation has occurred. However, if a court determines that an employer has committed a willful violation of the act, then the plaintiff will have three years from the date of the violation to bring a lawsuit. Employers who have violated the act may be responsible for the difference in wages, as well as possible liquidated damages and other costs related to the lawsuit. Finally, although the act doesn’t require employer disclosure of all salaries, it does prevent employers from requiring employees not to talk about their salaries with each other.
It is important to note that there are limited exceptions to mandatory equal pay as provided in the text of the Fair Pay Act itself. Pay between men and women may differ because of a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by output of production, or if based on a factor other than gender. The burden is on the employer to assert these exceptions. However, for the employer to claim that the difference in pay is based on a factor other than gender, they must prove that the other factor is job-related and is a business necessity.
History was changed forever in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law.
Before the 1960’s, women did not earn anywhere close to the amount of men. Additionally, women were often segregated into lower-paying jobs. However, history was changed forever in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. President Kennedy declared, “It affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.” The act required men and women to be paid the same wage for doing the same job. Soon after, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was also signed into law. That law prohibited discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, origin, religion, or gender. Together, these laws made significant progress towards men and women earning equal pay.
Progress has been steadily achieved in the movement for equal pay, as recently as 2009. In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a United States Supreme Court decision that had significantly shortened the filing period for complaints of employment discrimination about compensation. In addition, employees can now challenge employer decisions about pay or wages, job classifications, denials of promotion, denials of tenure, or failure to respond to requests for salary raises.
Supporters of the act have been labeling it as a monumental step in the process of achieving workplace equality by closing loopholes of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Despite all of the progress made, statistics still show that women in many professions are earning significantly less than their male counterparts. This is what motivated California government leaders to act and try to improve equal pay in their state. Supporters of the act have been labeling it as a monumental step in the process of achieving workplace equality by closing loopholes of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Although the Equal Pay Act of 1963 required equal pay for performing the same job, there are significant exceptions to this. For example, pay could differ based on skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions, and workplace location. Therefore, men and women performing essentially the same job could still receive different pay.
California’s Fair Pay Act aims to close these loopholes for good. Noreen Farrell, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her strong feelings about it. She stated, “It’s been a long march to try to get laws that are strong enough that would actually close the gender wage gap in this country; we have been envisioning what would be the strongest state law for equal pay in the nation for some time, and this is it.” To the surprise of many, even the California Chamber of Commerce echoed its support for the bill by indicating in a statement that, “we believe this requirement will achieve the intent of the law and eliminate any employer from seeking to justify a wage differential through meaningless differences in job duties under the guise that such positions are not ‘equal’.” The Chamber changed its opposition to the bill to support after limited exceptions to equal pay were provided for in the act; such as by use of a merit or seniority system.
Opponents to the bill argue that more women than men work flexible or part-time jobs for various reasons.
On the other hand, opponents to the legislation argue that this act will put a heavy burden on employers to prove that they have sufficient reasons to justify a pay difference between male and female workers, despite different skills they may possess. They also argue that the statistics used (citing that a woman makes only eighty four cents to a man’s dollar) are skewed because they are affected by gender preferences to certain professions. The opponents support this proposition by stating that more women than men work flexible or part-time jobs for various reasons. These jobs tend to pay less than full-time jobs. Therefore, these jobs should not be put together with statistics that measure pay between men and women in the same type of job and at the same workplace.
Yet, despite the opposition, most citizens in the state are interested to see how the Fair Pay Act will change the workplace and if it will become a model for other states looking to equalize pay in the future.