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How to determine if there is pay discrimination at work?

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2023 | Employment Law

An image of a factory worker working earnestly to earn their monthly wage is a familiar sight. It is a way of life for many. People work diligently to receive compensation. Unfortunately, beneath this pursuit is a disconnecting truth: pay discrimination. While disparities in salaries based on skill and experience may be acceptable, being paid less due to factors like age, gender, race and ethnicity may be considered unlawful.

In California, as in many other states, groups of individuals are more susceptible to experiencing pay discrimination. To combat this, the California Fair Pay Act prohibits employers from paying employees differently based on gender, race or ethnicity for substantially similar work. They have outlined a process to determine equal pay for those who do “substantially similar work”.

What is substantially similar work?

Under the California Fair Pay Act, “substantially similar work” refers to identifying jobs that share similar characteristics in terms of the following:

  • Skill: This includes the necessary experience, education and training for the job
  • Effort: This relates to the physical or mental exertion required to do the job
  • Responsibility: This involves the level of accountability and duties
  • Working conditions: This encompasses the environmental factors impacting the job

The act requires a process to be in place to determine these similarities. For example, every job post should have detailed job descriptions, qualifications and a list of tasks that employees need to perform.

Justifying disparities

Employers can only justify pay disparities if they are based on specific factors outlined in the act. These justifications must be reasonably and consistently applied. Acceptable justifications include:

  • Seniority
  • Rewarding length of service
  • Merit based on job-related criteria like performance evaluations
  • Production-based systems
  • Education, training or experience

In addition, employers cannot use prior salary to justify pay differences between employees of different genders, races or ethnicities. And although existing salaries may inform compensation decisions, employers should still justify these using the factors listed above.

Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and equally in the workplace, especially in terms of payment. Those of us who do substantially similar work must be aware of the conditions for equal pay. If they suspect pay discrimination, they should not hesitate to take action. They should be proactive and seek help when needed to ensure fair pay for themselves and their colleagues.