Thanks to the The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which President Obama signed into law last week, a new 180-day statute of limitations begins with each discriminatory paycheck a company issues. The statute of limitations used to be 180 days after the company decides to pay an employee unfairly (unbelievable, isn’t it?). Now, once you find out you’re being paid unfairly, you have 180 days from the time of your last paycheck to bring a suit against the company.
But first you have to find out you’re the victim of discrimination. Lilly Ledbetter only learned she was being paid less than her male peers because an anonymous co-worker tipped her off with a note. According to Ledbetter, she was told on her first day at work never to discuss salary with anyone.
Talking money is a long-standing social taboo; in some situations there’s good reason for that. In others, it can leave you in the dark and hurt your bottom line.
Companies benefit from the culture of secrecy regarding salaries. If nobody knows how much their co-workers earn, nobody knows whether mistakes are being made, whether discrimination is taking place, or whether they need to be more assertive next time they’re up for a raise.
A couple weeks ago, 20/20 ran a piece on pay transparency. Personal finance expert Suze Orman is for it. She thinks colleagues can protect and empower each other by sharing their numbers and confronting a boss with major discrepancies. But plenty of others are against it, explaining that passing around salary information within companies only leads to hurt feelings, envy and confusion.
The New York Times Style section is not written with us plebes in mind, but according to this article from last spring, 90 percent of people over age 35 think you should never let your co-workers know how much you make, whilst 85 percent of those under 35 agreed with that statement (exactly-35 year olds were not surveyed). At the same time, apparently, “young people” (those under 35?) are very forthcoming about salary with everyone but their colleagues.
So what’s a girl to do? I am not necessarily shy about what I earn, but how does one go about turning their workplace into an open and honest environment?