Ellevate San Diego Event: The Equal Pay Act and Salary Negotiation Tactics

Pam Vallero Ellevate San Diego Equal Pay

Ellevate Network’s San Diego chapter held an “Am I receiving equal pay for equal work? Tips for pay negotiation” event June 12 at Hera Hub in Sorrento Valley.

Local pay equity expert Pamela Vallero of Gruenberg Law spoke about what to do if you suspect you are not receiving equal pay for equal work. She also gave tips on how to negotiate salaries, benefits, and raises in order to eliminate the gender pay gap. Pam is a plaintiff-side attorney specializing in labor law, including unlawful discrimination, wrongful termination, and retaliation. She also teaches legal writing at a San Diego area law school.

Pam described the Equal Pay Act and the ways it was strengthened in recent years to protect women and all people of color. She gave the audience several “taglines” to remember, listed as headings below.

1. Race and Ethnicity are Now Included.

The 2016 Wage Equality Act added race and ethnicity to the Equal Pay Act. Previously only gender was protected from pay discrimination. Now women of color are more protected. Pam explained this extra protection is needed because in general, women make 84 cents on the dollar compared to men, but African American women make 63 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women make 43 cents on the dollar.

2. No Justifying Pay Differences on Prior Salary By Itself

Due to the gender wage gap, women’s prior salaries are generally lower than men’s, so basing new salaries on prior salaries continues to perpetuate inequality. It is illegal for employers to pay you less for doing the same work as someone else based on prior salary alone. In California, employers can ask how much you made at past jobs, but you don’t have to answer the prior salary question with a number. Pam suggests responding to that question with answers such as:

  • “It’s not about me, it’s about the job. What’s the job budgeted for?”
  • “What is this position worth to you?”
  • “I’m moving from another city where the cost of living is lower, so my past salary isn’t comparable.”
  • “I just got a graduate degree, so I’m not sure my previous salary is relevant.”
  • “How much does this job normally pay, or what has it paid in the past?”

3. Substantially Similar Work Instead of Equal Work

For 65 years, the Equal Pay Act mandated equal pay for equal work. Exactly equal work is hard to prove. The Act was changed to read “substantially similar work” which lowered the burden of proof for employees to compare jobs. Comparing job skill, effort, and responsibility is the basis for the law, not comparing job titles.

4. Same Establishment

The Act used to say you could only compare your pay to employees in the same office location. That is difficult in this era of remote workers and companies with numerous offices worldwide, where no one might hold a similar job in your location. The cost of living in each location should be accounted for in your comparison. Glassdoor and Indeed have cost of living calculators that several Ellevate members have used when moving to new cities and negotiating salaries.

5. Disclosure

Under the Equal Pay Act, you can ask your coworkers about their salary and you are protected from retaliation by your employer. We are raised to not talk about money, so it may be uncomfortable, but it is not against the law and cannot be against company rules. To eliminate the pay gap, we need to get comfortable talking about money.

If your company has an HR department, go to HR first and ask for the salary range of your position or the position you are applying for. Employers must supply salary ranges for reasonable requests. If retaliation occurs as a result of asking for salary information, you have 6 months to fight it by law.

Pay differences have to be based on seniority systems, merit systems, or quality/quantity systems. Not gender, ethnicity, or race.

equal pay negotiation ellevate san diego

How to Negotiate Salary

If you’re a new hire, contact HR and ask for a salary range personalized for this job. Once they give you a range, erase the bottom number and use the top number of the range. Most HR people will negotiate down. The HR people in the audience revealed that the top number is usually fudged. They suggest saying something like, “I was looking at $60K” when HR says $50K is the top of the range. Remember that if you’re in touch with HR, you’ve already made it past the thousands of resumes they’ve reviewed for the position, so you have some power. They want you.

If HR says they don’t have a range, such as when it is a newly created position, look at Glassdoor and Indeed for salary info. Look at the male average salary, multiply that by 25%, and ask for that. Go into the HR meeting with two numbers in mind, a basement number that you’re willing to walk away from, and the number that you really want.

If you can’t find salary info for your position online, ask your network, such as fellow Ellevate members. Tell people that you’re looking for a salary range for anyone who does this, this, and this. “If you don’t have that type of network in your family, you have to adopt a family,” said Pam, meaning a family such as the Ellevate Network.

How to Ask For a Raise

Pam stressed the importance of timing when asking for a raise. She advised that you should be at your job at least 6 months before asking. When planning for a raise, be in frequent contact with your manager, asking questions such as “What do I need to do to get to the +$5K level? What are your expectations?” Align your goals with their expectations, and don’t wait for performance reviews, you would be too late. Ask if you can meet once a month to make sure you’re on track for a raise.

Go into the meeting with a “brag sheet” — keep track of all your accomplishments at work to show how awesome you are and what a great employee you are. “You need me, You need me to be happy, and this is what it takes to make me happy,” is the kind of confidence the Pam suggested you keep in mind, backing it up with the items on your brag sheet. Keep that sheet updated so you’re ready for the raise meeting when the time is right.

An entrepreneur in the audience said a version of this brag sheet is also good for entrepreneurs to send their clients. It’s a “here’s what I’ve done for you this year” sheet and could be added with instructions on, “here’s what I can do for you next year, let’s seal the deal and sign the contract now for the year so we don’t have to negotiate numerous times…”

Pam stated a great line to remember: “This is not Oprah … a raise for you, a rase for you, and a raise for you! You have to ask for it.”

Unequal benefits are also covered by the Equal Pay Act. Benefits such as tuition reimbursement, training/professional credits, mentorship/coaching, child care stipends, health and fitness or anything that helps with work/life balance, flexible hours, and working from home are more things you can negotiate in addition to salary for new jobs or raises.

What to Do if You Suspect You’re Not Getting Equal Pay

  1. Submit questions in writing to HR, such as how much do they normally pay for this position, etc. Submit a grievance form if applicable at your company.
  2. After you get answers from HR, if you still feel like you aren’t getting paid equally, contact a plaintiff-side attorney such as Pam. She said it is free to call her and that information is power.
  3. You have 1 year to file for unequal pay, and every paycheck extends the statute of limitations.

Thanks for a very informative seminar, Pam!

See Ellevate San Diego’s upcoming events.

DON’T MISS Streaming the Global Ellevate Mobilize Women Summit June 21!

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