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By Peter Swanson / PayScale
October 16, 2015
California Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill aimed at eliminating gender wage gap
California Governor Jerry Brown applauds a group of former female factory workers from World War II after signing the Equal Pay Act into law on October 6, 2015 at the Rosie the Riveter National Monument in Richmond, Calif.
Contra Costa Times—TNS via Getty Images

Earier this month, the California Fair Pay Act was signed into law. Different from other equal pay legislation, it mandates that women receive equal pay for "substantially similar work." California women make about 84% of what men make (higher than the national average of 78%), but women of color are the most disproportionately affected by the gender pay gap: African-American women bringing in 64 cents on the dollar, and Latina women making 44 cents.

The significance of this legislation, being championed as the most progressive of its kind, is that it puts much of the power back into the workers' hands rather than leaving workers to stand up for themselves.

"Substantially Similar Work"

The language in the law calls for equal pay for "substantially similar work," meaning that it doesn't have to be pound-for-pound the exact same job description to merit an equal pay. Workers can compare their pay to similar positions at the same company, and evaluate equality claims based on performance rather than simply title.

What this does is essentially close a lot of discriminatory loopholes, and hopefully allow workers to demand more for their output, rather than being stifled by a title that's linked to lower pay.

"Considerations like job seniority and merit pay are still allowable under the bill, though the onus is on the employer to prove that gender is not a motivating factor," writes Stassa Edwards at Jezebel.

This is important because it empowers the worker, not leaving them to prove their worth, but rather forcing the employer to effectively prove they're not deserving of equal pay.

Pairing Equality and Growth

Much of the criticism that this law draws is that it undercuts a business's ability to grow remain competitive. There are concerns that further litigation will impede California's business climate, and now everyone will be forced to pay the same wages for the same positions — causing smaller businesses to lose labor to more powerful competitors.

The fight for equality isn't slowing down any time soon. The truth of the matter is that the faster that businesses work toward equal pay, the less litigation they'll have to deal with, and the more growth they'll naturally produce in creating a healthy workforce. While for now, the laws are changing the businesses — hopefully soon, the employers will learn to outpace their state legislature.

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