Your Rights Under the California Fair Pay Act

What the law means for employees and employers

California’s new Fair Pay Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2016, is designed to promote wage transparency in the workplace and make it easier for workers to bring legal actions against their employers in situations where workers of the opposite sex in the same workplace are paid a higher wage for “substantially similar work.” If a worker shows that he or she is earning less than a co-worker of the opposite sex despite the two of them performing substantially similar work, the employer must show a valid and non-gender-related reason why the wage difference exists, such as a seniority system or a merit system. What’s more, employees who exercise their rights under the Fair Pay Act are protected against discrimination, termination and harassment from their employer.

Here is what California employees need to know:

Am I allowed to ask my co-workers how much they make?

Yes, under the Fair Pay Act you are permitted to ask your co-workers about their wages. Similarly, your co-workers may legally ask you what wages you earn. However, nothing in the Fair Pay Act requires either you or your co-workers to answer this question if asked.

Can I voluntarily disclose my wages to other workers?

Yes. The Fair Pay Act allows you to discuss your wages with other co-workers even if the other co-workers do not ask you about your wages. For instance, if you recently received a one-dollar-per-hour raise, you are permitted under the Act to tell other co-workers about your raise whether or not they’ve asked.

Can my employer pay me a different wage than a co-worker of the opposite sex?

Under the Act, an employer must pay co-workers of opposite sexes the same wage if they perform substantially similar work. So if you and your co-worker perform tasks that are completely different from one another, your employer can pay you different wages. Even if you do perform substantially similar work, your employer may be able to escape any legal consequences for a wage disparity if it can show the disparity is due to some other factor besides gender.

Can my employer take action against me for discussing wages with other co-workers?

No. The Fair Pay Act prohibits your employer from taking retaliatory action against you for discussing your wages with co-workers, for bringing a legal action seeking compensation for disparate wages, or for exercising any other right under the law. For example, your employer may not fire you because you sued him or her under the Act; nor can your employer demote you or harass you by making disparaging comments to you or assigning you demeaning tasks.

What should I do if I feel my employer has retaliated against me?

You should document when the retaliation occurred, what it consisted of, and as many details about the incident as possible. Share this information with a California employment law attorney to determine your precise rights and the solutions available to you. 

For more information about this area, see our employment law overview for employees and our overview of wage and hour laws.

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