Large Employers Beware: California’s New Pay Reporting Requirements Will Have the State Looking over Your Shoulder for Years to Come

Caroline Powell Donelan and Howard M. Knee

On or by March 31, 2021, (and each March 31 thereafter), private employers in California with more than 100 full-time and part-time employees that are required to file employer information reports with the federal government (“EEO-1” reports) will be required to submit detailed data to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) regarding the race, ethnicity, and gender of employees in the 10 job categories used in the federal EEO-1 form. Specifically, SB 973 requires employers to report: (1) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and gender in each of these job categories (looking at any single pay period between October 1 and December 31 of the preceding year); (2) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and gender whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; (3) the total number of hours worked by each employee counted in each pay band (despite the fact that this information is not commonly kept for exempt workers); and (4) the employer’s North American Industry Classification System (“NAICS”) code. If an employer has more than one establishment in California, it is required to submit a report for each establishment, as well as a consolidated report that includes all employees.

And, what will the government do with this data? The stated intent of the law is to identify and remedy pay inequities and strengthen current equal pay laws. The new legislation permits the DFEH to use the data collected to prosecute complaints alleging discriminatory wage practices under the Equal Pay Act (California Labor Code § 1197.5). Moreover, the DFEH is authorized to share the reports with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), so the DLSE can identify wage patterns and institute litigation to challenge suspected discriminatory practices. In other words, rather than the government responding to complaints from employees, or investigating targeted industries, it will now evaluate all data submitted by large employers and decide whether enforcement action is warranted.

The legislation provides that reported data will be kept confidential and not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. The DFEH, however, may compile, publish, and publicize aggregate reports based on the data it receives, so long as the aggregate reports are reasonably calculated to prevent the association of any data with any individual business or person. The data may be used for investigation and enforcement proceedings by the DFEH and the DLSE under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Labor Code, respectively. Of course, parties to private litigation will likely seek discovery of reported data as well.

SB 973 essentially mirrors an Obama-era pay data collection rule issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was later stayed by the Trump administration. Of course, it remains to be seen whether our new administration will revive these collection efforts at the federal level, but for now, California remains willing to carry the torch.

If you have any questions about your pay practices or these new California reporting requirements under SB 973, please contact a member of our Labor & Employment team.