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Understanding Substantially Equal Work in California: Breaking Barriers Based on Gender Roles

Pay inequality based on gender is an issue that persists in many workplaces, including those in the diverse and progressive state of California. To address this problem, it’s essential to understand the concept of substantially equal work, how California laws protect equal compensation, and the steps you can take to address compensation discrimination. This article aims to shed light on these important topics and empower both women and men to confront unequal pay in the workplace.

Defining Substantially Equal Work

Substantially equal work refers to jobs that require similar skills, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions. In essence, it means that individuals performing these roles should receive the same compensation, regardless of gender. The principle of equal pay for equal work has been a cornerstone of the fight against workplace gender discrimination.

However, achieving substantially equal pay has proven to be a formidable challenge despite the existence of laws designed to prevent such discrimination.

California Laws Protecting Equal Work

In California, several laws are in place to address workplace gender discrimination, including unequal pay for relatively equal work. One of the most critical pieces of legislation is the California Equal Pay Act (EPA), which prohibits employers from paying employees less than those of other genders for substantially similar work.

To establish a violation of the Equal Pay Act, an employee must show that the employer pays employees of the opposite sex more for comparable responsibilities and that the wage difference cannot be justified by factors such as seniority, merit, education, or any other bona fide business necessity.

In addition, California’s Fair Pay Act, the 2015 expansion of the EPA, provides additional protections for workers. The new law made changes, including:

  • Removing the requirement that workers be compared must work at the same establishment, allowing better comparison across large businesses.
  • Strengthening the definition of a “bona fide” business reason to pay people differently; companies must now prove the differential is both job-related and consistent with a business necessity.
  • Preventing employers from using employees’ previous salaries as justification for wage differentials.
  • Providing anti-retaliation protections for workers who make EPA claims.

Finally, as of January 1, 2017, race and ethnicity are protected under California’s EPA. This makes filing a compensation inequality claim substantially easier in California than it is under federal law. 

Gender and Parent Bias in the Workplace

Despite these legal protections, pay inequality remains a significant issue. Gender bias and, more specifically, anti-parent bias, continue to influence compensation decisions. Mothers, in particular, often experience lower wages and face challenges in career advancement due to societal expectations related to childcare responsibilities compared to childless women and men. In contrast, fathers often receive higher wages and more career opportunities than childless men or women. 

Addressing gender and parent bias in the workplace is crucial to achieving substantially equal pay for all. This involves dismantling traditional gender roles and challenging discriminatory practices that perpetuate compensation disparities.

Examples of bias include: 

  • Withholding a bonus from a working mother when one was granted to a childless coworker on the grounds that the mother must be “less dedicated” to her job.
  • Conversely, offering a working father a larger bonus because he needs to “support his family” when other colleagues aren’t given the same bonus.
  • Denying working mothers the opportunity to work overtime because of their gender.
  • Offering women lower raises or fewer benefits on the assumption they’ll be leaving the workforce anyway. 

Any of these situations may be grounds for an EPA claim under California law. 

Steps to Address Substantially Equal Work Disputes

If you believe you are a victim of compensation discrimination, taking action is essential. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Gather Evidence: Collect evidence demonstrating you receive less pay than colleagues of other genders despite performing comparable work. This may include pay stubs, job descriptions, performance reviews, and any relevant communications.
  • Consult with an Attorney: Seek the guidance of an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer. An attorney can help you understand your rights, assess the strength of your case, and guide you through the legal process.
  • Negotiation and Mediation: Attempt to resolve the issue through negotiation or mediation. Many disputes can be resolved through open dialogue and cooperation between employees and employers. If your employer or HR is unaware of the discrepancy, simply filing a complaint and attending a meeting with your attorney may be all that’s necessary to resolve the situation. 
  • File a Complaint: If negotiations fail, you may consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Your attorney can assist with this process.
  • Consider a Lawsuit: If other avenues do not lead to a resolution, you may pursue a lawsuit against your employer for compensation discrimination. Your attorney will help you build a strong case and navigate the legal proceedings.

You Deserve Equal Pay

Achieving substantially equal pay for substantially equal work is an ongoing battle, but it is one that must be fought to break the barriers based on gender roles. California’s Equal Pay Act provides a legal framework to address unequal pay, but it’s essential to understand and exercise your rights.The persistence of compensation discrimination, particularly related to gender and anti-parent bias, demands our continued attention and action. Seeking the guidance of an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer can be a critical step in holding employers accountable for unequal pay and promoting a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Remember that your fight for equal pay is not just for yourself but for all those who deserve fair and just compensation for their work, regardless of gender. You can learn more about getting help for Equal Pay Act claims by scheduling a consultation with the experienced workplace discrimination attorneys at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP.

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