March 12, 2024 is Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year. According to census data from 2022, women earn 84 cents for every dollar white men earn, when counting full-time, year-round earners. When counting all earners – including part-time and part-year earners – the wage gap widens to 78 cents. And the wage gap is worse for Black women (69 cents), Latinas (57 cents), and Native women (59 cents).

Equal Pay Day was started by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 to highlight the gap between men and women’s wages – more than 30 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 required that men and women be given equal pay for equal work. The wage gap figure is an aggregate. It does not show men and women doing the same work or in the same jobs. But it does show changes over time, with progress in narrowing the gap in the 1990s and little change in this century. At the current rate of change, women won’t achieve pay equity until 2088, according to the American Association of University Women, which published a 2022 report, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.”

California is among the leaders among states implementing reforms aimed at helping close the wage gap through equal pay and more transparency in pay.

Laws requiring pay transparency – and barring reliance on salary history – are aimed at combating wage discrimination based on gender, race and ethnicity. Historically, employees who may have faced gender- or race-related pay disparities in previous jobs often were offered lower salaries based on their artificially low salary history, perpetuating a cycle of lower pay. Bans on salary history inquiries remove that factor, while pay transparency legislation ensures that employees have accurate information about the salary for their position and any position they might seek.

Since 2018, California has barred employers from requesting or relying on salary history information as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant, helping stop the cycle of lower pay. More recently, the Pay Transparency for Pay Equity Act took effect in January 2023, requiring employers with 15 or more employees to include a pay scale in any open job posting, including postings with third parties such as LinkedIn or Indeed. The law, set forth in California Labor Code section 432.3, also requires that all employers must provide salary and wage information to employees upon request, and to job applicants upon “reasonable” request.

At the federal level, the Biden Administration recently announced that it would ban the use of salary history for setting the wages of federal workers, and is also proposing to do the same for employees who work for federal contractors. Congress is considering bills that would provide new tools to address pay inequity and increase wage transparency, including the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Salary Transparency Act.

Wage gaps are unacceptable. California Women Lawyers supports efforts to close the gender pay gap and encourages our members and affiliate bar associations to join the fight for equal pay. For more information and an Equal Pay Day toolkit, click here.

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