Information is vitally important to our daily lives, yet when it comes to the context of an employment relationship, so often that information travels on a one-way street. Employers, through the hiring process, know everything from our basic information to whatever intimate details that may arise in a background check. Yet, the wealth of information that would be important for employees, prospective hires, and the general public rarely flows in the opposite direction.
From basic information regarding how much an employee is meant to be paid to the rights employees have at the workplace, so much secrecy revolves around what an employer does not or need not disclose. To take steps toward a greater balance in the employer-employee relationship, create safer workplaces, decrease wage theft, and stamp out employment discrimination, a greater emphasis on laws requiring employers to provide information is a must for legislatures on the state and federal levels.
Information on employee wages
Information on how much a position pays is vital to closing the gender and racial pay gap, ensuring one’s pay is proportional to one’s work, and that one’s pay is in line with that position elsewhere in the market. In all, information is a central method to quell wage theft.
Eight states have passed salary transparency laws to move in the direction of equality and fairness when it comes to workers’ and the public’s knowledge about employer wage information. In Colorado, Washington, New York, and California’s transparency laws, for example, the wage or salary range must be provided in the job posting, rather than upon request of the applicant. This allows potential applicants to save time not applying to employers who seek to underpay for their labor and permits those in the same position (inside the organization or in the labor market) to ensure they are being paid a proper wage or salary. Importantly, this also empowers women, BIPOC workers, and other traditionally marginalized groups to ensure they are being paid a wage or salary that is comparable to their white male counterparts — a large step in closing unjust wage gaps.
One distinction of note: the Colorado and Washington laws provide information not only on the wage or salary, but also the benefits provided for a position. In a country that ties healthcare to one’s employment, where costs and coverages of healthcare and benefit plans are an area targeted by employers to decrease the costs of labor, that information is enormously important to the workers and the public.
Post-labor wage information
Another type of information vital to ensuring justice in workers’ rights is wage information provided to employees after they have completed their work. Most often, this information comes in the form of a paystub. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers do not need to provide detailed paystubs to employees. When wage theft effects millions of workers to the tune of $50 billion annually, it is imperative that federal and state legislation is passed to codify employees’ rights to retain information on their work hours and payments in the form of consistent and timely paystubs.
Some states, such as California, have done so already. The California state law requires employers to provide an itemized wage statement each pay period. Included in the paystub are the dates worked, total hours worked, overtime hours, deductions, gross wages, and sick time and vacation time accrued.
If an employer refuses to provide their employees with paystubs, the employer incurs a $50 fine on the first infraction and $100 for infractions after that, with a maximum fine of $4,000 per employee.
However, with such low violation caps, many employers continue to commit wage theft and simply pay the fines, which can be extrapolated by the vast sum taken in wage theft annually. If a federal law or state laws across the country are to be successful, penalties must be proportionate to the wage theft occurring.
Workers’ rights information
Most employers have company policies distilled into a set of guidelines employees must follow to continue working at their jobs. But what of the information on what requirements and guidelines the employer must adhere to?
Federal law requires an employer to give employees little information with regard to their rights. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, every employer must post information of employee rights provided under the act (which covers minimum wage and overtime), though failure to post leads to no citations or penalties. But when an employer chooses to provide an employee handbook on employee rights, federal and state laws govern what must be included. Forty-seven states have such laws on the books. The landscape of what is required is vast, with states governed by inappropriately titled “right-to-work laws” retaining the least.
In Mississippi, Arizona, and Idaho, for example, employers are required to inform employees only of their federally required rights: equal employment and anti-discrimination rights, sexual harassment policy, family and medical leave policy, military service leave, jury duty leave, lactation accommodation policy, and religious accommodation policy.
On the other end of the information spectrum, California has the most information policy requirements for employee handbooks, requiring employers to provide information of an employees’ federal rights, but also bereavement leave, business expense reimbursements, domestic violence leave, health and safety policy, home office reimbursement, meal and rest breaks, paid sick leave, paid time off, pregnancy leave, school activity leave, and voting leave, among many others.
These additional policies are vital for employees to know their rights, but also to protect against adverse employment actions taken against employees for engaging in protected activities. More states should follow in the footsteps of California and implement these workers’ rights information requirements.
A more just future for information sharing in the workplace
The more employer information that is kept from workers and the general public, the more wage theft, unjust firing, unequal pay, and discrimination is likely to occur. Legislators must pass laws aimed at holding employers truly accountable for their wrongs.
One fundamental step in rectifying this process is through knowledge. Information justice and workers’ rights are inextricably linked in completing the transition from a society with a significantly imbalanced employer-employee relationship, in which workers are vulnerable to their employers’ labor violations, to one oriented around equality, democracy and justice in the workplace.