The wage gap has become a matter of serious concern for many in this country. Various reports show income rising for many business executives, while wages stagnate, or even decline, for most working people. Employment statutes at the federal, state, and local levels protect workers against a wide range of untenable employment situations and unjust acts by employers, but this does not include a wide disparity in pay between a company's low-level employees and its chief executive officer (CEO). The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a final rule in early August 2015 requiring publicly traded companies to disclose the ratio between CEO salary and median employee compensation. This rule implements a provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank), Pub. L. 111-203, but it has been the subject of substantial criticism from the business sector. It might not have an immediate impact on improving employees' workplace rights, but it could be an important step in that direction.
Employees in New Jersey are generally protected from workplace discrimination and harassment, based on factors such as race, sex, religion, and national origin, by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-1 et seq., and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The NJLAD includes additional categories of protection, such as sexual orientation and gender identity. The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a et seq., sets a statewide minimum wage and establishes rules for overtime compensation. At the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., performs a similar function, albeit with a lower minimum wage.
These laws could work together to protect employees in a situation where certain employees receive lower pay than other employees with the same or similar qualifications, performing the same or a similar job, if the disparity is related to one or more of the categories protected from discrimination. Nothing in state or federal law says that a CEO's pay cannot be higher than an employee's pay, and despite some particularly heated political rhetoric, no one is suggesting a rule like that. The issue is that many workers put in 40 or more hours of work per week, and yet they struggle to make ends meet, even frugally. The SEC's regulation does not directly address this issue, nor issues of employee wage complaints, but it helps put these issues closer to the front burner, so to speak.