Women should be paid as much as men for performing the same work. Workers should be able to discuss their salaries without fear of reprisal. That’s what Anna Sanders contended when she sued her employer, the New York Daily News, for wrongful termination after they allegedly fired her for openly comparing her salary to that of a male coworker who earned more despite doing the same job. Her claim is now being filed in the New York Supreme Court.
Salary transparency, the right to discuss one’s compensation in the workplace, is federally protected, but research shows that workers who share their salaries still face retribution.
In 2010, IWPR conducted the first national survey that asked workers whether there were policies at their work places that discouraged or prohibited sharing information about pay. Overall, about half of all workers (51 percent of women and 47 percent of men) reported that the discussion of wage and salary information was either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment. Pay secrecy is higher in the private sector—62 percent of women and 60 percent of men working for private employers report that wage and salary information is secret.
More recent surveys have replicated and expanded on IWPR’s initial efforts. Beyond confirming the levels of pay secrecy found by IWPR 7-8 years earlier, the latest findings indicate that state-level efforts have done little to increase the share of the workforce able to discuss pay without fear of reprisal. The researchers see new opportunities for change as older workers retire—millennials are more likely to discuss pay with coworkers and more aware of what others earn.
Still, more is needed to address wage discrimination so that workers are paid equitably and don’t need to challenge their salaries. Legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act would, among other things, prohibit employers from using salary history to determine pay, protect against retaliation for discussing pay, ensure equal pay for equal work, and increase penalties for violations of equal pay provisions.