California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently stated his intent to sign Senate Bill 358, a gender-based fair-pay bill. Unanimously passed on Aug. 31, Senate Bill 358 expands the criteria for what constitutes gender-based wage disparity and makes it easier for underpaid female workers to file complaints against employers.
The main provision of this bill expands the definition of a wage gap between male and female employees.
Senate Bill 358 redefines a gender-based gap by “[eliminating] the requirement that the wage differential be within the same establishment.” It also defines a gender-based gap as “paying any of its employees at wage rates less than those paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work.”
A difference in pay between male and female workers belonging to different job titles of similar workload, even of separate establishments, is now valid grounds for filing a complaint.
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Calif.), the bill’s primary author, claims this provision is necessary to eliminate the workarounds in current laws that have allowed wage disparities to exist.
“It means that female housekeepers who clean rooms could legally challenge higher wages of those males cleaning the lobby,” Sen. Jackson said in a press conference regarding the bill. “We’re closing all the loopholes.”
Additionally, the bill bans the employer practice of preventing employees from inquiring about and discussing the salaries they earn and encourages workers to exercise their rights within these terms.
According to Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director for Equal Rights Advocates and co-writer of the bill, this practice has kept many cases of wage disparity from coming to light.
“Oftentimes workers don’t even know that there is pay discrimination because employers express or explicitly tell them that they can’t talk about compensation,” Reisch told the UCSD Guardian.
The bill will enforce these new clauses by preventing employers from acting against or penalizing employees who have reason to invoke the bill’s provisions.
Senate Bill 358 is not the first piece of legislation to tackle the issue of income inequality. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 also condemned the gender-wage gap on a federal level.
The EPA contains a provision denoting that no employer “shall discriminate … between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees … less than the rate at which [the employer] pays wages to employees of the opposite sex … for equal work.”
Senate Bill 358 aims to enforce the illegality of wage discrimination by emphasizing transparency from the beginning of the hiring process for all employees.
Despite that declaration, women in California today earn 84 percent of what men do for substantially similar jobs, based on a 2014 study conducted by the American Association of University Women.
In tandem with Senate Bill 358, state lawmakers are currently working on two other equal pay bills. Assembly Bill 1017 would prohibit employers from asking a potential employee about their previous salary histories. If passed, the bill would be the first and only one of its kind in the U.S.
The second bill, Assembly Bill 1354, would require contractors working in the state to comply with current equal pay legislation. This bill would mandate that all potential contractors submit a nondiscrimination program to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and continue to submit annual progress reports even after approval.