I wanted to touch briefly on those employment policies sometimes found in employee handbooks that ban employees from discussing their pay with each other.
The purpose of the policies is often to keep employees in the dark about what others are paid so as to, among other things, not allow resentment to creep in.
A downside to these policies, however, is that to the extent there is discrimination at play in the workplace and it is manifested in unequal pay, it can persist if employees are not allowed to talk about their pay. (For this reason, among others, each year the government of Finland publishes the pay of all residents.)
While these policies have been legally concerning in the U.S. under the National Labor Relations Act, here in Massachusetts, as part of the Equal Pay Act that went into effect on July 1, 2018, the legislature explicitly banned salary confidentiality policies. The law makes it illegal for an employer to “require, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about either the employee's own wages, or about any other employee's wages.” M.G.L. c. 149, § 105A(c)(1).
Now, nothing in the law requires an employee to answer their coworker's informal questions about what they make. The law simply says that employers may not prohibit employees from disclosing or discussing their wages to the extent they want to do that.
The law also allows an employer to prohibit human resources employees, supervisors, or other employees whose job responsibilities give them access to other employees’ compensation information from discussing such other employees’ wages, unless the information qualifies as a “public record” under M.G.L. c. 4, § 7.
Doorways Employment Law specializes in employment law counseling, strategic advice and representation to individuals and businesses across Massachusetts, including on equal pay matters. Contact Doorway Employment Law for an employment law consultation.