It’s been fifty years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made clear that women should receive equal pay for equal work, but women are still paid less than men in nearly every occupation.

And because employee salaries are often kept secret, it is difficult for women to find out when they are being paid less than their male colleagues, and therefore difficult to challenge pay discrepancies. In fact, over 61 percent of private-sector employees report that discussing wages is either prohibited or discouraged by their employers. Employer policies and practices that prevent workers from discussing their pay mean that a woman worker could be paid less year after year than the man across the hall doing her same job and never know it.

One week ago today, New Jersey took a huge step toward solving this problem when Chris Christie signed into law a bill prohibiting retaliation against employees who disclose salary information for the purpose of investigating whether pay decisions are being made unfairly. Effective immediately, the new law prohibits employer retaliation against employees for discussing information such as job title, occupational category, rate of compensation, and employee benefits.

New Jersey’s law follows in the footsteps of a number of other states that prohibit retaliation against employees for discussing pay: California, Colorado, Louisiana, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, and Vermont. California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Vermont prohibit employers from implementing pay secrecy policies as a condition of employment.

There are also important steps the federal government can take to ensure that employees aren’t kept in the dark about pay discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced in Congress, is designed to strengthen the Equal Pay Act by banning retaliation against employees for sharing salary information. Furthermore, the Obama Administration should issue an Executive Order prohibiting contractors from retaliating against workers for discussing their pay. The EEOC and OFCCP should take steps to make clear when pay secrecy policies and practices are prohibited by existing anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions in our equal pay laws.

Kudos to New Jersey for taking a strong stand against keeping employees in the dark about pay discrimination! Here’s hoping other states and the feds soon follow suit.

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