On July 2, 2015, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law Public Act No. 15-196, entitled An Act Concerning Pay Equity and Fairness (the Act). The Act is effective as of July 1, 2015 and limits an employer’s ability to discourage employees from having open discussions about their wages.

The Act makes it illegal for an employer to prohibit an employee from disclosing the amount of his or her wages to colleagues or inquiring about the wages of his or her colleagues.  The Act also prohibits an employer from mandating that an employee sign a “waiver or other document” precluding the employee from discussing his or her wages or otherwise inquiring about the wages of colleagues. Finally, the Act provides that an employer may not discipline, discharge, retaliate, or otherwise penalize any employee for discussing wages with a colleague or inquiring about the wages of another employee.

The law also provides employees with a civil right of action if his or her employer violates the Act. If successful, the employee can seek compensatory damages, attorneys' fees, punitive damages, and equitable relief. The statute of limitations is two years from the date of an alleged violation.

The Act’s requirements are not entirely new. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has been interpreted to protect employees, both unionized and non-unionized, who engage in “concerted activity.” The National Labor Relations Board has held that discussing terms and conditions of employment, such as wages, may be considered concerted activity under the NLRA. However, unlike the Act, the NLRA excludes certain managerial and supervisory employees from its protections. In short, the Connecticut Act’s protections are broader than the NLRA.

This law follows a recent trend in Connecticut of providing employees with increased access to information concerning the terms and conditions of their employment. For example, the legislature recently enacted Public Act No. 13-176, which, among other things, amended Connecticut’s Personnel Files Act (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 31-128a to 31-128h) to provide employees with increased rights to inspect, copy, and rebut information in their personnel files, such as disciplinary records.

Employers should review company policies, handbooks, and practices to ensure that they do not run afoul of the Act. For example, the Act will likely be interpreted to prohibit a provision in an offer letter requiring that compensation information be maintained as confidential.  Such a provision would likely be viewed as a “waiver or other document that denies the employee his or her right to disclose or discuss the amount of his or her wages.”