Pay Secrecy


Women's Bureau

Publication Date



[Excerpt] In 2014, women who worked year-round, full- time earned seventy-nine cents (79¢) for every dollar their male counterparts earned. Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly held by women, occupations predominantly held by men, or occupations with a more even composition of men and women.

Pay secrecy policies serve to perpetuate these disparities. In 2010, nearly half of all workers nationally reported that they were either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their colleagues, according to results from a 2010 Institute for Women’s Policy Research/ Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security. Prohibiting or discouraging any discussion of wages in the workplace is far more widespread in the private than in the public sector. In this survey, 23.1 percent of private sector workers reported that discussion of wages and salaries was formally prohibited and an additional 38.1 percent reported that such discussion was discouraged by managers.

On April 8, 2014, President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors, subcontractors and federally assisted construction contractors from discharging or discriminating against any employee or applicant because the employee or applicant inquired about, discussed, or disclosed his or her compensation or the compensation of other employees or applicants. The Administration has also endorsed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would enable workers to discuss compensation without fear of retaliation.


Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau. (2016). Pay secrecy (Women's Bureau Issue Brief). Washington, DC: Author.