Transparency about salaries can make workplaces more equitable, especially for women and people of color. Why are so few Americans willing to open up?


The National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935, has long been interpreted to guarantee that even nonunion employees have the right to share salary information without fear of dismissal or even so much as a reprimand. The N.L.R.A. includes language protecting employees’ rights to engage in “concerted activities,” with respect to terms and conditions of their employment. The law protects, essentially, employees’ right to talk to one another about any grievance, large or small.

The law is clear; a vast majority of disputes are resolved before they ever get to a hearing. In recent years, at least 18 states and the District of Columbia have also passed legislation that prohibits employers from punishing their employees for discussing their pay. And yet a 2017 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 66 percent of the private-sector employees surveyed reported that they were either formally prohibited from sharing their salaries or verbally discouraged from doing so.

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