New Jersey law now allows employees to ask current or former co-workers about their job titles, occupational categories, pay and benefits, and status as members of protected categories.

Governor Chris Christie signed the new law on August 29, and the bill was effective immediately upon signing. The law amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to prohibit retaliation against any employee who asks a present or former co-worker for information about that co-worker’s job title, occupational category, or rate of compensation including benefits. The legislation also prohibits retaliation against any employee who asks a present or former co-worker about his or her gender, race, ethnicity, military status, or national origin.

The legislation originally would have amended New Jersey’s whistleblower statute, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, but was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Christie last year. That original version of the bill prohibited retaliation against any person who asked about or disclosed the information covered by the bill. The version that became law prohibits retaliation only against persons requesting the information. The final version of the bill also expressly states that nothing in it shall be construed to require a present or former co-worker to disclose any information in response to a question about a topic covered by the statute.

Sponsors of the legislation asserted that the prohibition against retaliation was necessary to combat pay discrimination by allowing employees to ask each other about salaries and benefits. The law provides that covered inquiries must be for the purpose of investigating or taking legal action because of discriminatory treatment by the employer with respect to compensation or benefits.

Employers should be aware of the potential for employees to conduct “surveys” of pay and benefits provided to co-workers as a result of the bill’s enactment. Care should be taken not to engage in any conduct that might be construed as retaliation against the survey takers.