In the past, it was not uncommon for employers to enforce strict confidentiality policies that limited an employee’s ability to discuss their own wage or salary information with co-workers, presumably for the purpose of deterring requests for wage increases or concealing disparate pay structures.
Passed in 2020, Virginia Code Section 40.1-28.7:9 now holds that “no employer shall discharge from employment or take other retaliatory action against an employee because the employee (i) inquired about or discussed with, or disclosed to, another employee any information about either the employee’s own wages or other compensation or about any other employee’s wages or other compensation or (ii) filed a complaint with the Department alleging a violation of this section.” However, the law does specifically address restrictions on prior employees, thereby leaving open the issue of whether employers can enforce confidentiality provisions in settlement or severance agreements entered into post-termination.
On the national level, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) also prohibits employers from disciplining non-supervisory employees for discussing their pay with co-workers. The NLRA protects employees’ rights to engage in “protected concerted activities,” which includes discussing wages, benefits, and other working conditions with their colleagues.
In combination, these law provide protection for employees who discuss their wages with other employees, and employers who violate these protections can face legal consequences. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for discussing their wages or for filing a complaint related to wage discrimination can file a complaint with the appropriate government agency or seek legal counsel.