Governor Signs CalChamber-Supported Gender Equity Pay Bill

CalChamber Policy Advocate Jennifer Barrera and Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) flex their muscle in a show of support of SB 358 at the bill signing ceremony.
CalChamber Policy Advocate Jennifer Barrera and Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) flex their muscle in a show of support of SB 358 at the bill signing ceremony.

A California Chamber of Commerce-supported bill that seeks to eliminate pay disparity based on gender was signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. yesterday.

SB 358 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) 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.

“Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, shouldn’t be an issue in California,” said CalChamber President and CEO Allan Zaremberg. “We applaud the Governor and a bipartisan vote in the legislature for establishing this fundamental tenet in statute and providing guidance to employers to determine appropriate wages for non-gender related reasons that allow employers to effectively manage their workforce. “

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 certainly 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, 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. While 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.

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

Staff Contact: Jennifer Barrera

Jennifer Barrera
Jennifer Barrera took over as president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber of Commerce on October 1, 2021. Previously, she oversaw the development and implementation of policy and strategy as executive vice president and represented the CalChamber on legal reform issues. She led CalChamber advocacy on labor and employment and taxation from September 2010 through the end of 2017. As senior policy advocate in 2017, she worked with the executive vice president in developing policy strategy. Before joining the CalChamber, she worked at a statewide law firm that specializes in labor/employment defense. 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. See full bio.