What is the most dangerous question in your workplace?
In the private sector, the most dangerous question often is: “How much are you being paid?”
While the U.S. Congress fiddles, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently signed into law a bill making it illegal for New Jersey employers to retaliate if a worker discloses job pay information when the disclosure is made for the purpose of investigating whether someone is being paid unfairly. Job pay information includes workers’ job titles, occupational categories, pay and benefits, and status as members of protected categories.
Nearly half of all workers nationally are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their colleagues, according to a 2011 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research Institute (IWPR).
Even when women have the same title as men, they tend to earn less and the disparity widens if women are Latino or African American.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, is quoted as stating: “If we are serious about pay equity, we have to allow workers to freely discuss their job conditions … By allowing employees to ask their coworkers about their salaries, benefits or working conditions, we open a door for those who believe they are being treated unfairly to learn the truth and get their fair share.”
The NJ law mirrors the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009 but was blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Senate. The act, which was reintroduced this year, would close loopholes in the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and provide additional incentives for employers not to discriminate in pay.
A 2010 report from the US Census Bureau reported that for every dollar a man earned, a woman only earned 77 cents–for equal work production. As women get older, this wage gap widens. The National Women’s Law Center reports that when women start working–between ages 15 and 24–the wage gap is relatively small. Yet by the time they start to reach the critical years leading to retirement, ages 45 to 64, women are earning only 71% of what men do.
Discrimination (rather than differences in occupations, industry, experience or education) is believed to be responsible for about 40 percent of the wage gap. According to the IWPR, in the federal government, where pay rates are transparent and publicly available, the gender wage gap is only 11 percent.
At the current rate, it is projected that the wage gap will not disappear for 45 years.