California expands equal pay law to include racial discrimination

California has expanded its Fair Pay Act to prohibit pay disparities on the basis of race.

Last year California passed the Fair Pay Act, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that was designed to help close the pay gap between men and women. Now, a little over a year after it was passed, the Fair Pay Act is being expanded to safeguard employees from getting paid less due to racial discrimination and salary history. As Bloomberg BNA reports, the amendments to the Fair Pay Act, which will come into force in 2017, not only prohibit employers from paying employees of different races different salaries for doing substantially similar work, but also restrict the use of an employee's salary history when determining their pay.

The Fair Pay Act

The Fair Pay Act became law at the beginning of this year after being passed in 2015. As the Sacramento Bee reports, the new law was groundbreaking because it required companies to pay female employees the same amount as male employees if they did "substantially similar" work. Previously, the law had only prohibited women from getting paid less if they did the same work as men.

The broader definition meant that companies could no longer rely on a small difference between a female employee's job duties and a male employee's duties in order to justify a pay discrepancy.

Expanded protections

While the Fair Pay Act tackled the issue of the pay gap between men and women in general, it largely overlooked the much worse pay gap that exists between women of African-American or Hispanic descent and white, non-Hispanic men. In California, for example, a woman, on average, earns 79 percent of what a man earns. African-American women, however, earn just 63 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns, while Hispanic women earn under 43 cents on every dollar a white, male employee earns.

That large pay disparity led to two significant amendments to the Fair Pay Act, both of which will come into force in the new year. The first amendment mandates that employees who are of different races must be paid the same for performing "substantially similar" work. The other amendment forbids employers from relying on an employee's salary history alone as justification for a pay gap between employees. Salary history, the amendment's backers note, has often been used as justification to perpetuate entrenched pay disparities between workers of different races and genders.

Employment law advice

As California's employment laws continue to evolve, it is important for workers throughout the state to know that they have somebody they can turn to for help. An experienced employment law attorney can assist a worker who may have an employment-related dispute, including allegations of discrimination, unfair dismissal, and other concerns that may pertain to employment law.