It's now illegal in New Jersey to retaliate against employees for talking about their salaries or those of others in the company if related to litigation.
A law signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Aug. 29 makes it a violation of the state Law Against Discrimination for an employer to retaliate against a worker who discloses information regarding job titles, occupational categories and compensation rates of other employees if the information disclosed is to be used in any legal action alleging discriminatory treatment in pay, benefits or bonuses.
The bill is meant to protect workers who engage in good-faith attempts to find out if they are being discriminated against when it comes to pay.
"It's another way of making sure employers, who otherwise might be inclined to engage in pay discrimination, be unable to do so, or at least make them more unable to do so," says Kevin Costello, a member of the New Jersey Association for Justice, which lobbied for passage of the bill.
The amendment to the LAD protects employees who divulge pay and benefit information when asked to by anyone who has a good-faith belief that they are subject to pay discrimination, but does not protect those who merely want to find out what other employees are paid and what benefits they receive, say Costello, of Costello & Mains in Mount Laurel.
Employers are still able to base pay decisions on merit, he says.
The Legislature passed the bill, A-2648, going along with changes Christie recommended in a conditional veto last Sept. 24.
Under the vetoed version, discussing pay, benefits and job responsibilities would have been a protected act under the state's Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
"Because workplace discrimination claims in New Jersey are brought under LAD, this amendment of CEPA is inconsistent with the original intent of that law, and is more consistent with the underlying goals of LAD," Christie said.
The Assembly went along with Christie's recommendation in a 63-11 vote on June 20, and the Senate followed suit in a 34-1 vote on Aug. 19.
"There are places where employees can be terminated for just talking about their pay," said one of the sponsors, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, during hearings last year.
Republican opponents sided with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, who opposed the package as a whole because, they argued, the bills would increase administrative costs at a time when employers are struggling to regain their footing after the recession.
A-2648 was part of a four-bill package passed by the Legislature in an effort to eliminate gender-based pay inequities.
Christie has signed A-2647, which requires employees to post in a prominent place information about state and federal employee rights.
He vetoed A-2649, which would have required employers doing business with the state to report to the Department of Labor information regarding the gender, race, job title, pay rates and benefits packages offered to each worker.
He conditionally vetoed the fourth bill, A-2650, which would bring New Jersey into line with the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It says that an act of illegal discrimination occurs each time an employee is paid an unfair amount. In effect, that means it restarts the applicable statute of limitations whenever an act of discriminatory compensation occurs.
The federal law came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber, 550 U.S. 618 (2007), that all discriminatory paychecks are consequences of the original discriminatory check.
The New Jersey Supreme Court took a different tack in Alexander v. Seton Hall University, 204 N.J. 219 (2010), finding each discriminatory paycheck is an act of discrimination in itself.
The Legislature has not yet acted on his recommendation that limits be placed on the amount of back pay that could be awarded under the act.