What Is Pay Secrecy?
| Read Time: 2 minutes | Equal Pay

We previously wrote about California’s Equal Pay Act, a powerful law written to solve the gender and racial pay gap in America, which remains a huge barrier to female and minority employees. 

The wage gap is real. Women earn, on average, 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. African-American men earn, on average, about 87 cents and Hispanic men earning 91 cents for every dollar earned by white men. This gap is even larger for African-American and Hispanic women.

New laws passed by the California Legislature aim to further narrow the gap. As of January 1, 2023, employers are now required to provide pay scales to job applicants and current employees, and must post a pay scale with any job posting (even if they use a marketing company or other party to post it, like Indeed.com). 

However, it is important to note that you must ask for your payscale as a current employ—your employer does not need to post it or provide it to you unasked.

With these new laws the Legislature hopes to end pay secrecy, one of the largest obstacles to pay equality. 

What Are Pay Secrecy Policies, and Are They Legal?

Pay secrecy policies, also called pay or salary confidentiality rules or “black box” compensation systems, prohibit employees from discussing their wages with other employees. Employers often claim that pay secrecy is needed to help “morale” or to “control” finances. But more often, pay secrecy policies are used to hide wage gaps.  

Because of this, California has passed laws that provide employees with the right to discuss their wages. Your employer cannot prohibit you from sharing how much you make or asking other employees how much they make. If your employer is telling you to keep your wages secret, they’re breaking the law.  

Federal law also protects employees’ right to discuss their wages. For instance, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has repeatedly found that pay secrecy policies violate employees’ free speech rights and their right to organize and discuss working conditions.  

Can I Be Fired for Discussing My Wages? 

No. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for exercising your right to equal wages. This means they cannot threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against you for exercising your right to equal wages, including talking about your wages. 

Can I Sue for Being Underpaid?

Yes. When an employer pays you less than a peer of a different race or gender, you can bring a lawsuit to recover the amount of unpaid wages (the amount of the wage gap) plus a penalty in the same amount (so basically, you receive twice the wage gap as damages). You also have the right to recover legal fees spent trying to get your employer to pay your wages. Lab. Code § 1197.5(c). Finally, you may also have a claim for race or gender discrimination under general anti-discrimination laws, which provide additional damages (including the possibility of emotional distress or punitive damages).

If you’re not paid the same as workers of another race, gender, or ethnicity for performing substantially similar work, you can sue for violations of California’s Equal Pay Act.  

Talk to an Experienced Equal Pay and Employment Lawyer 

Every worker in California has the right to be paid the same as other workers of another sex or race performing the same job. If you’re being paid less for the same work, your employer is breaking the law and you may have a right to damages. We provide free consultations for all clients with potential Equal Pay Act claims. Contact our experienced California employment lawyers today.  

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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