California has recently marked Equal Pay Day — a day which hopes to highlight the disparity in pay and benefits between men and women. Under current employment laws, namely the federal Equal Pay Act, employers must pay men and women the same amount for doing the same work. While the jobs do not need to be completely identical for the act to apply, they do need to be substantially equal. The Equal Pay Act is nearly 50 years old and therefore many people are calling for an update.

Under some of the proposed revisions, employers would need to be more specific about why people are being paid differing amounts. This change could require employers to list reasons for pay discrepancies. Furthermore, people are asking that Congress make it illegal under the Equal Pay Act to retaliate against employees who discuss their pay. Under the current law, no such protection exists.

While some employers may think these changes are unnecessary, there is new evidence that these changes are needed. New data shows that women in California on average only earn 85 cents for every dollar a man earns. With this discrepancy, a woman could earn almost $7,500 less per year than a male counterpart. The income gaps increase for African-American women who only earn an average of 64 cents for every dollar a white male earns and for Latina women who earn only 55 cents for every dollar a white male earns.

The Equal Pay Act is just one of many federal laws that protect women in the workplace. Women have a variety of workers’ rights laws that protect them from sexual harassment, discrimination based on their gender and against any possible retaliation for reporting unlawful behavior. Women need to understand their legal rights and protections so they can protect themselves from policies working to promote the interests of men based solely on their gender.

Source: KCET, “She Works Hard(er): Unequal Wages for California Women Persist,” Lori Abbott, April 9, 2013