America, and California in particular, has always been a place that believes in equality. However, individuals haven’t always practiced what they preach. The past several hundred years have been a long, uphill battle to help ensure everyone in the US is truly equal. In fact, August 26th was the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, when white women were officially granted the right to vote – a watershed moment for womens’ equality in the US.
Legislation like the 19th Amendment has been one of the main tools in this fight. What’s written into law becomes enforceable, giving people working against unjust, unfair conditions a means to fight back. Other essential laws in the battle for equality include the California Equal Pay Act of 1949, the Fair Pay Act of 2015, and the Wage Equality Act of 2016.
California’s Equal Pay Legislation
The Equal Pay Act was a landmark law put into place to help ensure that employees of any gender received equal pay for their work. The law stated that “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.” However, it left loopholes and many individuals, particularly women, suffered from unfairly lowered wages. The result was that women and people of color regularly earned significantly less than white men. This difference is known as the wage gap.
That’s why the Fair Pay Act and the Wage Equality Act were passed: to revise the Equal Pay Act. The Fair Pay act specifies that work needs to be “substantially similar,” not “equal.” Instead of a worker needing to prove that they completed the exact same work as another, higher-paid employee, they need to prove that the work they do is similar. “Whether employees are working as assistants or are partners at law firms, they may not be paid differently as long as they have similar responsibilities.
Meanwhile, the Wage Equality Act expanded protections. Both sex and ethnicity were included explicitly under this act, protecting more people from unfair wage gaps. However, while these acts combined make it illegal to discriminate and perpetuate wage gaps, there is still work to be done.
Closing the Wage Gap
Today, women still make on average 75-80% of what men earn. Black women make just 65% of what white men make, and Hispanic men make 72% of the average white man’s earnings. The wage gap is not just a matter of gender – it’s a matter of race, as well. However, no matter who is earning less, perpetuating the wage gap in similar jobs is illegal.
California’s wage gap laws give tools to people who believe they are facing an illegal wage gap. For these laws to have their intended effect, California employees should understand their rights and make the most of them. That includes reaching out to an attorney to fight for your rights and your pay.