Salary Gag Orders Still Common in U.S. Despite Being Illegal

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Have you ever been told by an employer to refrain from telling your coworkers how much money you earn? If so, you’re not alone. An author for The Atlantic recently wrote a piece about this issue, and it seems that many Americans hear this order from their employers and are even threatened with a termination of employment if they do share their own payroll numbers with coworkers — but only a minority of Americans realize that it’s illegal for employers to say this, and to accompany the warning with a threat of being fired.

A ruling in 1935 (that’s right, 1935) stated that all workers have the right to create unions which focus on protection of workers’ rights, pay negotiations, and other conditions of employment. Six states currently have even clearer legislation that directly protects workers and the right to discuss personal salaries. According to a recent Atlantic article which discusses this topic, even the most informal of warnings intended to encourage employees not to talk about salaries is illegal. Nevertheless, many employers continue to give warnings and threats. And what’s worse — most of these employers know that they’re doing something illegal, and they take advantage of the fact that the majority of Americans don’t realize this. President Obama has recently signed two executive actions which address this problem, but so far, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.

Have you ever been told by an employer to refrain from telling your coworkers how much money you earn? If so, you're not alone.
Have you ever been told by an employer to refrain from telling your coworkers how much money you earn? If so, you’re not alone.

Why is this? For starters, no employer wants to have employees band together and create a stir. And what’s the most obvious cause of workplace tension among employees? Salary differences. No one wants to be paid less than their coworker if both employees do the same work, have the same experience, and are equally successful. Sure, some people are selfish and won’t care if they’re on the higher end of the payroll, even if it isn’t fair to coworkers. But chances are, if you spend enough time with your coworkers and you feel comfortable telling them how much money you make, you willcare if your coworkers aren’t being compensated fairly.

The problem is, employers know that many Americans are ignorant of employment laws and they’re willing to risk the mild punishments for breaking these laws. In a situation where an employer is struggling with finances, many difficult decisions have to be made which necessarily affect employees. It may seem easier to hire new employees at a lower pay rate, or to give only a certain group of employees raises or extra monetary benefits. But it’s also illegal. And many experts speculate that salary-related gag orders could be connected with wage discrimination problems, which leads into a new set of employment problems.

So how do we stop this trend? Simple: if you work somewhere — literally anywhere — and your boss tries to keep you from discussing wages with your coworkers, just speak up. It’s your right to do so.

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