An employee handbook and an employment contract serve primarily to protect the business and not the individual workers. You may only realize this once you see how the rules set in them could stop you from standing up for your rights.
While contract law requires that workers receive valuable consideration for the concessions that they make to their employers, businesses still stack their documents with terms that benefit them. They likely have many policies in place that infringe on what you do in your personal life, such as social media clauses that prevent you from even saying where you work online.
Your employer may also include a rule that says you may not disclose your wages to other workers or ask them what they get paid. Such wage secrecy rules are common inclusions by companies and can help cover up the fact that they discriminate against their workers. Can your employer take punitive action against you if you violate a wage secrecy rule in your handbook or employment contract?
Wage secrecy rules help employers hide the truth
Paying women less for the same work as their male colleagues is still a common practice at some companies. Even though there are federal laws demanding fair and equal pay, some employers still try to get away with discriminating against women when setting wages. If they get caught acting in such a discriminatory way, they could face censure and fines.
Creating a wage secrecy rule reduces the likelihood of a company facing consequences for bad behavior. When employees worry that talking could cost them their job, they may not willingly share their salary or hourly wage with their co-workers, even if the topic comes up outside of the workplace.
Can your employer punish you for disclosing your wages?
The federal government does not support the use of wage secrecy clauses. There are long-standing laws that establish the rights of workers to discuss their wages, among other employment topics. Although the courts won’t uphold wage secrecy clauses, employers still try to include them and may even take disciplinary action against workers for violating them.
If your company tried to fire you for your attempt to verify whether you receive a fair wage, you might be able to push back against their retaliatory behavior. If you’ve discovered a significant wage discrepancy along gender lines, you may need to consider taking action because of the company’s systemic wage discrimination.