CalChamber Participates in Equal Pay Task Force Meeting at Capitol

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California Chamber of Commerce Policy Advocate Jennifer Barrera joined other members of the California Pay Equity Task Force recently to discuss how to implement changes to the state Equal Pay Act.

The revisions went into effect on January 1 as a result of CalChamber-supported SB 358 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara). The mission of the Task Force, created by the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, is to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to facilitate meaningful implementation of revisions to California’s Equal Pay Act

The Task Force, led by Commissioner Lauri Damrell and Labor Commissioner Julie Su, met for the third time on October 24 at the State Capitol. A list of the other diverse members of the Task Force is available at women.ca.gov.

“The Task Force is a diverse group of stakeholders who are really focused on making sure the Equal Pay Act is a success for both employers and employees,” said Barrera. “It is an honor to work with such talented and knowledgeable individuals who are all dedicated to making sure women receive equal pay for performing substantially similar work.”

The Task Force has created subcommittees of its members to address various issues regarding implementation of the Equal Pay Act. These subcommittees include identifying challenges and barriers both employees and employers face with regard to the Equal Pay Act, creating relevant job descriptions and classifications, providing guidance with definitions of new terms utilized in the SB 358 changes to the Equal Pay Act, as well has how state and federal agencies will enforce this law. At the most recent meeting, the subcommittees provided written reports to the Task Force on these topics as well as proposed ideas on how to address these issues with the expertise of the various Task Force members.

CalChamber-Supported Legislation

Last year, the CalChamber worked closely with Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to pass SB 358, which seeks to eliminate pay disparity based on gender.

SB 358, which received overwhelming support in both houses as it moved through the Legislature, will ensure that women are paid equally for work that is substantially similar to the work of their male colleagues, and are not retaliated against if they discuss or ask how much their male colleagues are paid.

According to a CalChamber analysis, SB 358 will strengthen California Labor Code Section 1197.5, which precludes an employer from discriminating against an employee in pay on the basis of gender.

More Clarity

Equal pay for equal work has been the law in California for decades. While SB 358 strengthens this law, it also provides clarity on ambiguous provisions that will help California employers avoid costly litigation.

First, the term “equal” has proven too rigid and in limited cases, created absurd results that have provided a false sense of security for employers to justify a wage differential. Some employers have actually interpreted the term “equal” to mean absolutely identical job duties and title, and pay men a higher wage than women on minor variations. This was never the intent of the law and certainly is not how the federal counterpart, the California Equal Pay Act, or similar anti-discrimination laws have been interpreted with regard to wage discrimination. SB 358 modifies the term “equal” to “substantially similar” in order to emphasize the intent and application of the law.

Second, SB 358 defines the term “bona fide factor” to provide further guidance to employers regarding the bases that can legitimately justify a wage differential such as education, training, and experience. Although some have commented that SB 358 removed work performed on different shifts or in different establishments as a justification for a difference in pay, it did not, as specifically set forth in Senator Jackson’s letter to the Senate Daily Journal on May 26, 2015.

Overall, SB 358 creates a fair balance between ensuring employees receive the same wages for the same work regardless of their gender, while also allowing an employer to continue to manage its workforce and determine appropriate wages for non-gender-related reasons.

Next Steps

The task force will meet again after the new year.

Any guidance the Task Force provides on these issues will be a benefit to both employers and employees. It will assist employers in providing clarity and reducing uncertainty when evaluating their workforces and making pay decisions.

Staff Contact: Jennifer Barrera

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Jennifer Barrera
About Jennifer Barrera
Jennifer Barrera, senior policy advocate, works with the executive vice president in developing policy strategy and represents the CalChamber on labor and employment, taxation and legal reform issues. Before joining the CalChamber in September 2010, she worked at a statewide law firm that specializes in labor/employment defense. She also advised small and large businesses on compliance issues, presented seminars on employment-related topics, and authored articles in human resources publications. Barrera earned a B.A. in English from California State University, Bakersfield, and a J.D. with high honors from California Western School of Law.