When Wages Are Public
Workers Have the Right to Reveal Wages
Minnesota employees now have a legal right to share and discuss their wages. A new law bars employers from requiring workers to sign wage nondisclosure agreements or punishing them for discussing their wages. The law, codified as Minn. Stat. § 181.172, was passed as part of a bill aimed at increasing gender equity, but it applies to all employees. While many workers will prefer to keep their pay to themselves, employers can no longer expect or require a veil of silence when it comes to wages.
Companies with handbooks should also take note of this new statute: your handbook is required to include notice of employees’ new wage disclosure rights.
As a general rule, employers who avoid requiring or pressuring workers to conceal their salaries should stay on the right side of the law. The statute specifically bars employers from:
- requiring nondisclosure by employees of their wages as a condition of employment;
- requiring employees to sign any document which claims they are waiving their right to disclose their wages; or
- taking any adverse employment action against an employee for disclosing their wages or another employee’s wages (assuming they were disclosed voluntarily).
This means companies cannot require workers to keep their wages private or ask them to sign any document giving up the right to disclose their wages.
Employees are not obligated to tell their coworkers what they earn—if they wish, they can still keep their wages private. And companies can bar workers from discussing other employees’ wages without their consent. But employees are allowed to discuss their own salaries with whoever they wish, and if a manager tries to stop them, the employer could face stiff penalties.
Employees who believe their company has violated the statute have the right to sue in civil court. The court could require the employer to rehire a terminated worker, provide back pay and remove any sanctions from an employee’s record.
If your company has any policies (whether implicit or explicit) in place that bar workers from discussing wages, they should be changed immediately. You should also make sure all managers understand that they cannot ask workers to conceal their wage rates.
Handbook, Notice of Rights Required
The statute requires employer’s that maintain a company handbook to include a section notifying workers that they have the right to discuss their wages and detailing their recourse if the employer violates any of the law’s provisions. If your organization maintains an employee handbook, you should update it immediately to include the required notice of employees wage disclosure rights.
It may be tempting to skip an employee handbook altogether in an effort to avoid the hassle of keeping it up to date. But a well-planned and drafted handbook can make company policies clear, streamline employee discipline and limit the fallout in the event of employment related legal problems.