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Calif. Employers Must Comply With New Fair Pay Law


Today is implementation day of a different sort in California. A new fair pay law takes effect. It is meant to go beyond any other law in this country to ensure pay equity between men and women. Here's NPR's Laura Sydell.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Since 1949, equal pay for equal work has been the law in California. California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson says many women are doing the same work as their male counterparts but have a different job title and they make less. Jackson says the new law will make it much more difficult for employers to continue to do this.

HANNAH-BETH JACKSON: It will ensure that women are paid equally for substantially similar work to their male colleagues.

SYDELL: One example Jackson cites is hotel housekeepers, who are mostly women. They are paid less than janitors, who were largely men.

JACKSON: How is this job so much more different that we should be paying that man - the janitor more than the housekeeper?

SYDELL: These are the kinds of questions that employers around California are being forced to ask as they prepare for the new law to take effect. Elaine Reardon of the economic consulting firm Resolution Economics has been working with many California companies. She says it's not always clear what kinds of jobs are comparable.

So if the women at a bakery do more of the administrative work and the men are the bakers...

ELAINE REARDON: So does the fact that the administrative position requires more, perhaps, in the way of computer skills counteract the fact that working in a bakery you have to work with very hot ovens? You know, are these offsetting?

SYDELL: And there may be legitimate reasons for a pay difference says employment attorney Geoffrey DeBoskey.

GEOFFREY DEBOSKEY: So it is, of course, not against the law, necessarily, to pay two people differently. But what the law looks at is whether or not it's based upon a bona fide business reason.

SYDELL: DeBoskey says many of his clients are doing deep evaluations of their workforce. They're looking at how pay differences may have occurred in the first place. For example, if a job requires travel - and women are more often stuck taking care of children.

DEBOSKEY: That may create a situation where women are not able to achieve in the position to the same degree as a male colleague.

SYDELL: DeBoskey says some of his clients are trying to find ways to better accommodate childcare issues so that women are able to be more productive and to ultimately equalize pay.

And while these kinds of regulations often are opposed by businesses, the new Fair Pay Act was endorsed by the California Chamber of Commerce and passed with bipartisan support. And now many other states across the country are watching what happens with interest to see if California's new law helps close a persistent pay gap between men and women.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.

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