Connecticut lawmakers want to ensure that employees are free to discuss their wages with one another. A recently enacted law, Public Act No. 15-196, prohibits public and private employers from barring discussions about wages or penalizing employees for discussing wages. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, 2015, protects the rights of employees to discuss their own wages and the wages of co-workers who have voluntarily disclosed their wages. The law does not require the employer or any employee to disclose wages. Rather, it protects those employees who choose to discuss wages.

Notably, the new law creates a private right of action. This means that employees can sue for damages. The statute authorizes compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages, and other legal and equitable relief in the discretion of the court. There is a statute of limitations of two years.

In many ways, this prohibition is not new. The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), which applies to virtually every private employer, already prohibits employers from penalizing employees for discussing the terms and conditions of employment, such as their pay. However, the NLRA defines “employee” to exclude many members of management, while the Connecticut law contains no such exclusion. By reaching all levels of management, the new law has the potential to affect “glass ceiling” issues, as women call for equal pay at the higher levels.

Since an employer could violate the new law by maintaining a pay secrecy policy, even if it is never enforced, employers should check their handbooks to ensure no such policy exists. In addition, managers should be trained to know that they cannot shut down conversations among employees about their pay.

Our team of labor and employment attorneys can efficiently draft or update your employee handbook to ensure you are in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws.