California’s Fair Pay Act

HR Bulletin

Last month, Governor Brown signed into law SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act, aimed at eliminating gender-based wage discrimination. Previously, establishing a claim of “equal pay for equal work” was difficult because the term “equal” could be interpreted to allow minor differences in job duties to justify gender-based pay differentials. The new Act establishes a standard of “substantially similar work,” defined as a combination of skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. So, two employees with different job titles and daily tasks could be seen as performing substantially similar work requiring equal pay.

The Act provides exceptions for equal pay including: 1) a seniority system, 2) a merit system, 3) a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, and 4) a bona fide factor other than sex such as education, training, or experience. While the first three exceptions can be defined and measured by an employer’s policies, the fourth leaves room for subjectivity that may create risk. SB 358 goes further by requiring that the reason for the differential must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. This means an employer cannot base a pay gap on factors that are not directly connected to success on the job.

Employees are also protected against discipline or retaliation for discussing their own wages or inquiring about the wages of others.

Employers can take a number of steps to ensure pay equity among employees and demonstrate compliance with the new law:

  • Review all job descriptions to ensure the job duties, working conditions, and qualifications are accurate and up-to-date.
  • Audit employees’ pay rates to identify potential differences between employees who perform “substantially similar work.” (Legal counsel may be necessary for some analyses.)
  • Create a salary structure that defines pay ranges for specific positions or employee classifications using education, experience, skill level and other job-related factors to justify pay levels.
  • Remove any company policies that prohibit employees from discussing or disclosing their wages.


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How to properly fill out I-9 forms


As an employer, you are responsible for completing an I-9 form for all new and rehired employees hired after November 6, 1986.

Here are some tips for completing these forms correctly:

  • Be sure to use the most current version of the I-9.
  • Make sure your employees complete Employee Section 1 properly.
  • Keep copies of acceptable documents for all
  • Do not accept social security cards that have not been signed.
  • Do not allow untrained staff to complete and maintain I-9 forms.

Sierra HR Partners is available to audit your I-9 documents and practices, and to train your staff responsible for completing I-9s, which can reduce or limit your exposure to significant penalties.

Additional employer resources may be found by visiting “I-9 Central” on the Department of Homeland Security’s website.


What you need to know about California’s Heat Illness Standard


If you have employees who work outdoors, or in an indoor environment that lacks air conditioning, you need to familiarize yourself with the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s Heat Illness Standard.

For example, did you know that employers are required to give employees access to potable water, which has been defined as being “fresh, pure, and suitably cool”? Water must be provided free of charge and be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working.

It’s up to you to make sure you are following the guidelines set forth in the standard. A Heat Illness Prevention Plan must be provided in writing in both English and the language understood by the majority of the employees.


How to conduct a termination meeting


A wise HR professional once said: “If you must swallow a frog, swallow it whole.” In reference to an employee termination meeting, that means keep it brief. This is not the time to re-chew and regurgitate prior performance discussions. The actual termination meeting should be standardized and brief—generally no more than 10-15 minutes.

Ask another member of management or HR to be present at the meeting to serve as a witness, and in certain situations, to ensure workplace safety. The context of the termination meeting should include the following:

  • A concise statement that employment is ending today. If you have followed a progressive discipline process, then mention the steps that led to the final employment decision.
  • Allow the employee to briefly vent any concerns, particularly if this is a single egregious act, as opposed to a progressive issue that has been fully aired previously.
  • Restate that the decision has been made.
  • Go through your termination checklist to ensure that all steps are followed in accordance with company policy and employment laws such as final paycheck and unused accrued vacation, unemployment insurance notice, COBRA notice, building keys, credit card or other company property, how references will be handled, etc.
  • Escort the employee to his/her workstation to collect personal belongings, or inform him or her that the items will be mailed to the home address on file. Make sure the employee promptly leaves the workplace.

Once the termination meeting is complete, it’s a good idea to inform staff that the employee is no longer employed with the company. If co-workers raise questions about the reasons for the employee’s departure, remember to protect the confidentiality of any personnel matter. Inform them that you would not share that information with others, just as you would protect their confidentiality in any employee relations matters.