SB497 Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act Comes After Report Finds Rampant Employer Retaliation
For Immediate Release February 15, 2023
Contact: Mike Roth, 916.813.1554 Maria Elena Jauregui, 818.355.5291 (Spanish-language)
Senator Smallwood-Cuevas Introduces Legislation to Protect Workers Who Speak Out Against Unequal Pay & Workplace Abuses SB497 Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act Comes After Report Finds Rampant Employer Retaliation - Workers Fired, Bullied, Abused for Reporting Violations
Sacramento, CA – Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles), along with workers and advocates from the California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP), announced the introduction of The Equal Pay and Retaliation Protection Act, legislation to protect workers who report labor violations from being fired, bullied or harassed.
“In this economy, the right for a worker to blow the whistle and report labor and equal pay violations must always be protected. An employer who retaliates against a worker for taking such heroic actions must be held accountable,” said Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas. “Our bill will empower workers to break the silence so we can bring law-breaking employers to justice.”
The Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act would allow the Labor Commissioner to presume retaliation has occurred when the employer punishes or terminates a worker within 90 days of the worker’s complaint of wage theft or unequal pay. Current law gives employers a perverse advantage, as workers have a difficult time establishing retaliation in even the most blatant of cases without direct access to employee records. The bill will give employers the opportunity to rebut the presumption by proving their action was not retaliatory, as they are already required to do in cases of immigration-related retaliation and denial of earned sick leave. “Rebuttable presumption” is currently found in many parts of California’s labor-related statutes, but is missing in the core areas of wage and hour violations and equal pay.
“Deliberate policy choices created an economy where workers are too vulnerable, which means deliberate policy choices can fix the power imbalance. State leaders must prioritize actions this year to protect workers from retaliation,” CCWP Co-Chair Alexandra Suh said in a recent CalMatters op-ed.
Threats of retaliation have appalling effects in workplaces where employers maintain an unfair imbalance of power over workers’ jobs and earnings. A recent survey of 1,000 California workers found that the threat of retaliation was enough to stop more than 40 percent of workers from seeking remedy for unjust and illegal conditions. An even greater share of Black and Latinx workers - 55 percent and 46 percent, respectively - say the risks of speaking out are too high, making preventing retaliation a critical equity issue. (These findings were corroborated in focus groups with members of CCWP organizations.)
Over the past year, workers have shared stories with CCWP of being intimidated, bullied and even fired for speaking up about workplace violations. They said California must go further to protect workers against retaliation when they speak up.
“After I spoke out against injustices and dangerous conditions, investigators uncovered many wage violations at the car wash where I worked. My employer punished me for encouraging my co-workers to speak to investigators. The bosses reduced my hours and relocated me to another location far from my home. My co-workers say they would suffer mistreatment rather than miss a paycheck. The bosses have all the power and legislators need to change that by passing stronger retaliation protections for workers.” said Anselmo Leyva, a carwash worker in Los Angeles and a member of CLEAN Carwash Worker Center.
Worker advocates say giving workers a fair shot in retaliation proceedings will empower workers to speak up when their rights are violated and have a fighting chance to obtain justice. SB 497 was introduced after a report from the National Employment Law Project revealed an overwhelming prevalence of workplace violations, low rates of violation reporting, high rates of employer retaliation, and frequent unfair and arbitrary firings.
Key findings from the report How California Can Lead on Retaliation Reforms to Dismantle Workplace Inequality include:
38% of California workers have experienced a workplace violation.
Only 10% of those workers reported them to a government agency, and almost half (47 percent) did not report violations to anyone.
Of the workers who reported violations to their employer or to a government agency, a majority 54% (116 of 216 respondents) experienced employer retaliation.
51% of working Californians said that concern about employer retaliation would influence their decision about whether or not to report a workplace violation in the future.
This bill advances California Coalition for Worker Power’s “Our Voice, Our Jobs” campaign, which has united workers and advocates across the state to push for more uniform enforcement of labor laws to deter retaliation and investments in outreach to workers so they know their rights. The campaign is dedicated to education, organizing, and policy work to fight against retaliation, which keeps too many workers silenced and allows abuses to continue undeterred by California’s labor laws. # # #
The California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP) is a coalition of worker centers, unions, and worker advocacy organizations dedicated to ensuring that every worker in California has the power to come together and improve their work conditions and their communities.