As many of you know, the Paycheck Fairness Act has been approved by the House of Representatives and discussed in the Senate. There's a good chance it will be considered before Congress takes its August recess.
A post this week on Robert Fitzpatrick's Employment Law blog, Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act Could Legalize Employees' Discussion and Disclosure of Their Wages with Co-Workers (via Jon Hyman), led me to consider a particular aspect of the Act that I hadn't previously given much thought to.
In Section 3 of the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12, S. 182), the bill in Section 3(b) proposes to radically amend Section 215 of the FLSA (29 U.S.C. § 215(a)), including language that would appear to generally legalize discussions and disclosures amongst employees of their wages. The language proposes to add to Section 215(a)(3) language so that it would read, in part, as follows: “it shall be unlawful for any person-- . . . (3) to discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has inquired about, discussed or disclosed the wages of the employee or another employee.”
As the proposed amendment contains no language that relates the inquiry about wages or the discussion of wages or a disclosure of wages to gender discrimination issues, it would appear to be a general prohibition, making employer action predicated upon such inquiry, disclosure, or discussion a wrongful discharge.
It strikes me that this could have significant implications for HR and reward professionals. If employers can no longer prohibit employees' discussion of pay with their co-workers, to what lengths would - could - employees be allowed to go in their exchange of information? What roles would we (as HR and reward professionals) want - need - to go in tracking these efforts and complementing them with the educational framework necessary to ensure that this exchange is as well-informed and ultimately helpful as possible? What responsibility would we, should we, take for policing these activities? Who is ultimately accountable for enforcing the boundaries of employee privacy rights in this legal scenario?
Seems like this Section of the Act, if passed, could open some interesting doors for us.
Are we ready?
Image: Creative Commons Photo "U.S. Capitol" by Cliff1066