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The Washington Post reports that President Obama recently signed an executive order banning federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other.
He is trying to close the gender pay gap with transparency. If a woman does not know she is being paid less than her male counterparts, then she has no complaint to file. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 made it easier to for women to file when they find out, years later, that they were discriminated against. But if you never find out, you never know if you have a claim.
Unfortunately, being free to discuss salaries is no guarantee that people will be comfortable doing so. Many people consider their personal finances a private matter, and other consider openly discussing money in public to be crass. Whether these attitudes are right or wrong, they are not going away overnight. Just because we can talk, doesn't mean we will.
Of course, if you suspect you or a co-worker is being discriminated against, at least you know you are protected from retaliation if you wish to bring the matter up.
Another variable is that sometimes people are paid different salaries because one has been there longer, or one objectively does a better job. Discrimination claims put the burden of proof on the claimant. In other words, if you claim discrimination, you have to prove it. If you find out your co-worker makes more money, and you complain, you could be told he has worked there longer, in which case you have not proven discrimination.
It gets complicated. Legislation alone might not change people's willingness to discuss their salary, but defending employees' rights to share information with each other is, at its heart, a good thing.
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