By Kate Morgan

When Naomi’s former boss called her in for a stern talking-to, she had no idea it was illegal to prevent workers from having salary discussions.

At the time, Naomi, whose surname is being withheld on job security concerns, had been hiring for a position under her at a Seattle-based marketing firm. “There was another co-worker I thought might be a candidate. She asked me how much it paid. We weren’t at the stage where we were telling outside recruits that information, but it made sense to me that she’d want to know, so I told her.”

When the colleague used that knowledge to negotiate a pay rise for her existing position, the leadership blamed Naomi. “I got called into my boss’s office for ‘arming her’ with that information. It was a message like, ‘you hurt the company’,” she says. “I definitely felt like I had done something wrong… but I also felt like I had done something right, even though it was against the rules.”

In many sectors in the US, a combination of longstanding taboos and company policies keep people from discussing how much money they make – a phenomenon known as ‘pay secrecy’. Despite legislation that prohibits companies from punishing workers who disclose their pay, many people still work in environments where they don’t or can’t talk about money – something that has profound knock-on effects on wage equality.

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