Just after Iceland became the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women, other countries are following suit with their own legislations. In Iceland, women earn 19 percent less than their male colleagues but the new law, which went into effect on New Year’s Day, covers about 150,000 workers from about 1,200 companies that will be required to publish their wage scales. The measure intends to close the pay gap by 2022.
Now in Germany, the Act to Promote Transparency of Pay Structure — the most signficant stipulation of an act to promote equal pay, which passed the parliament last year — is coming into effect on Saturday.
Information regarding peers’ salaries has not typically been available to most employees across Germany, and most people keep mum about the numbers on their paychecks. But this act will help employees better understand whether or not they’re being paid fairly by entitling them to this empowering information. Their bosses will legally have to divulge what their coworkers in the same job description category take home within three months upon request.
That said, there are loopholes and exceptions. For example, companies with fewer than 200 people don’t have to abide by the law, since legislators reasoned that it’d cause them too much bureaucratic hassle. And in order for companies with more than 200 people to be required by law to share salary information, the company must employ at least six people of the opposite sex with the same job description; only then are employees entitled to request information about their other five coworkers. Still, however, they won’t be given specifics — just the median wage or salary for their peer group.
Of course, knowing the median salary doesn’t necessarily give you any answers either. Your specific salary might align with the median, but a coworker might still earn a lot more than you — it just doesn’t seem that way when all of your salaries are factored into the equation. For example, if five of the peers earn $50,000 each and one earns $55,000, the median is still just over $50,000, so you might assume you’re all earning just about the same, but that’s not the case. These numbers can be exacerbated depending on legitimate incomes, too.
Regardless of the numbes, the new German law only enforces employers to share the information; it doesn’t oblige employers to rectify your situation should you discover that you’re indeed being paid unfairly. Of course, anti-discrimination laws give you the choice to file a claim, and you might just feel evermore emboldened to do so.
Though there are caveats, because transparency is power, this is nonetheless a small mercy for working women in Germany. We hope that the United States, where women still earn just 82 cents for every male dollar, also makes moves to ebb the gender pay gap that’s plagued our workplaces for far too long.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.