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What is Pay Secrecy and is Salary Sharing Legal?


President Obama says his administration is fighting to close the gender wage gap, the gulf between what working men and women earn for the same job. Last week, Obama moved to circumvent a divided Congress on the issue. He announced two executive actions promoting the idea of "equal pay for equal work," both directed at creating more transparency in the workplace. For one, the president directed the Department of Labor to collect more information on what federal contractors pay their employees, "so pay discrimination can be spotted more easily." Obama also signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about their salaries or other compensation information. "Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it," the president said, "not in federal contracting or anywhere else." The intention is that if women find out their male co-workers are earning more, they can do something about it. But here's the thing: Under a nearly 80-year-old federal labor law, employees already can talk about their salaries at work, and employers are generally prohibited from imposing "pay secrecy" policies, whether or not they do business with the federal government. So why is the president signing an executive order? It's a matter of visibility for labor law and this particular right, says Cynthia Estlund, a law professor at New York University. The law, she says, "is not really well understood." And many don't even know this right exists. To better understand this complicated topic, read the rest of this article on NPR.