If you ever wondered how much some of your co-workers made but were always afraid to ask, it was probably because you were afraid of what your employer would do if you were not happy to know that some of them made more money. Co-workers' salaries are closely guarded secrets in some private companies, and complaining about what someone else makes can lead to one being fired.
This rationale arguably perpetuates inequities in pay between male and female employees. For years female employees have attempted to bridge the pay gap to no avail, even with state and federal legislation that requires employees regardless of gender to be paid equally. However, a new law may work to finally bridge the gap.
Essentially, California's new equal pay act affirmatively protects employees who inquire about their co-workers' compensation packages and even complain about them. Indeed, employers may still terminate employees for any other reason (as long as it is not an illegal reason), but the threat of firing an employee who inquires about pay inequities should be reduced by the new law.
Additionally, employees who challenge pay inequities no longer carry the burden of proving that such gaps are solely gender based. This burden now rests with the employer to prove that differences in pay are based on some non-discriminatory reason; such as specific expertise, tenure or differences in responsibilities.
It remains to be seen whether employers will change their compensation policies or how they award bonuses. If you have questions about your rights under the new law, an experienced employment law attorney can help.