New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Now Protects Workers from “Salary Secrecy” by Prohibiting Retaliation for Inquiring About Wage Discrimination

Fox-40-whistle.jpgAn amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) that took effect in January 2014 protects employees from retaliation by employers for asking about co-workers’ salaries as part of an investigation into wage discrimination. Prior to this amendment, New Jersey labor law already protected workers, commonly known as whistleblowers, who investigated or reported various unlawful practices by their employers, but did not protect workers who investigated certain practices. Many companies employment have “salary secrecy” policies that prevent employees from inquiring about other employees’ wages, making wage discrimination claims difficult.

Despite laws at the state and federal level prohibiting overt wage discrimination based on gender, the gap in wages between men and women is alive and well in New Jersey and around the country. Salary secrecy is among the biggest reasons for this continued disparity. Companies discourage employees from discussing pay with one another, and in some cases, even terminate employees for asking about other employees’ wages. A 2012 Forbes article found that companies with salary secrecy policies often had little justification for the policies aside from management’s unwillingness to explain their salary decisions to others. Such policies may also increase employee dissatisfaction and reduce overall efficiency, while more transparent policies have had positive results. The new amendment to the NJLAD effectively bans salary secrecy in New Jersey.

New Jersey law prohibits sex discrimination “in the rate or method of payment of wages.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56.2. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain to the employer or the New Jersey Civil Rights Commission about alleged wage discrimination. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56.6. The statute does not specifically mention investigations of possible wage discrimination, and this is where salary secrecy policies can prevent employees from asserting their rights.

New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J. Rev. Stat. §§ 34:19-1 et seq., prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who engage in a range of whistleblowing activities. These activities may include reporting unlawful activities, practices, or policies to an officer of the employer or a government agency; or refusal to participate in activities the employee reasonably believes to be illegal or fraudulent. The NJLAD also protects whistleblowers from discrimination by an employer. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(d). Prior to the new amendment, neither law made specific reference to investigations prior to a report.

The New Jersey Legislature passed S2995, a series of amendments to the NJLAD, in November 2013, and they took effect in January. The bill added subsection (r) to N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12, the section of NJLAD defining “unlawful employment practices.” The new section prohibits employers from reprisals against employees who request information from any current or former employee regarding their wages or salary, as well as other information like job title or benefits. The employee is protected from retaliation regardless of whether the inquiry is answered, but the purpose of the inquiry must be the investigation of possible wage discrimination.

The employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group help employees in New Jersey and New York assert their rights under anti-discrimination statutes and wage and hour laws. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

OSHA Award Demonstrates that Employers in New Jersey and Elsewhere May Not Retaliate Against Workers Who Refuse to Violate the Law, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, January 13, 2014
New Jersey Law Allows Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Crimes to Take Unpaid Work Leave, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 4, 2013
New Law Protects Social Media Account Privacy for New Jersey Workers and Job Applicants, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 1, 2013
Photo credit: By Lkmorlan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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