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Will California's new Equal Pay Act protect employees?

The gap in compensation between male and female workers has been a controversial subject for decades, even after federal legislation was enacted to prevent employers from discriminating against female employees when it comes to pay and promotions.

However, it appears that women are still generally paid less than men for doing the same work. One possible reason is a de facto wage penalty that women may experience because they may have to take time away from work for maternity leave. Another reason is the perception that a woman is less likely to want to take on more work because she has children at home. 

Despite these stereotypes, legislators are still enacting further laws to prevent gender discrimination when it comes to compensation. The latest iteration of California’s Equal Pay Act was signed into law this month. It highlights two important differences in the law.

First, it places the burden of proof in pay discrepancy cases on the employer to show that a pay difference is based on a gender neutral factors such as tenure, responsibilities within the office and professional expertise, instead of gender. In the past, employees were required to carry this burden; often to no avail.

Second, the new law protects employees who may challenge gender pay gaps and complain to their employers about such an injustice.  Complaints about pay discrepancies, even though they were valid, often led to people being fired.

It remains to be seen whether the new law will lead to genuine change. In the meantime, if you have questions about how the new law will apply, an experienced employment law attorney can help. 

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