Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Pay Secrecy, Discrimination, and Autonomy


A question facing nearly all private firms is whether they may keep employee pay secret. Many think it is obvious that firms are obligated to disclose a good deal of pay information once we properly appreciate the severity of pay discrimination in our economy and the autonomy-related interests that would be served by pay disclosure. This article puts forth a dissenting voice against the vast majority of recent commentary. It exploits a fissure between reasons we have to support certain coercive regulations and reasons firms have to act in the absence of such regulation. While acknowledging that we may need transparency regulations for firms that fail to act morally, it argues that otherwise moral firms need not disclose pay on the surveyed grounds.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Others have made some similar observations, though steeped in the application of frameworks rooted in continental philosophy or Frankfurt School critical theory (Flyverbom et al. 2015). For instance, Roberts (2009, p. 964) observes that, “[t]he problem but power of transparency lies in its use as an instrument of hierarchy, large-scale organisation, and control at a distance.” Transparency is said to lie at the intersection of power and the panoptic worldview (Foucault 1980, 1995), relying on “the twin possibilities of observation and control” (Zuboff 1989, p. 321).

  2. 2.

    Secrecy is fundamentally “a property of information” (Mahon 2018, pp. 173–174; Scheppele 1988, p. 12), not a property of things. Hence, my definition of pay secrecy does not reference pay per se, but pay information.

  3. 3.

    The reader may be familiar with President Obama’s 2014 Executive Order 11246, which was widely heralded to be a significant step towards ending pay secrecy (Eliperin 2014). The Executive Order resulted in rules barring federal contractors from retaliating against employees that discuss pay (Calvasina et al. 2015), substantially providing rights to individuals not already covered under the NLRA’s protections, such as managers, supervisors, and other workers in specific industries (Department of Labor n.d.). This is not the kind of pay secrecy this article focuses on, however, which is the top-down intentional concealment of pay information.

  4. 4.

    I cannot speak comprehensively to the cultures surrounding pay in non-American contexts. But it would seem that social norms encouraging the discussion of pay would be the exception to the rule.

  5. 5.

    I should note that, as Robert Hughes (2013a, b) points out, it does seem conceptually possible for government to enact non-coercive laws—that coercion is not necessary to law-making. But even a non-coercive law regulating lunches with friends would seem unjustified.

  6. 6.

    I thank an anonymous referee for drawing this helpful distinction.

  7. 7.

    I thank Amy Sepinwall for illustrating the importance of this concern to me.

  8. 8.

    Here, ought implies can. While companies certainly have some discretion in setting compensation (Moriarty 2012), the market economy does impose some constraints (Maitland 1985).

  9. 9.

    See, also, Waluchow (1988) for a rich smattering of candidates for a standard for fair pay, including: how the existing market would pay; what a theoretical fair market would pay; what a person deserves; how much the work contributes to the success of the firm; how much the work benefits society; the going rate in the same industry for people who do the same work; and adherence to the employer’s pre-existing explicit or implicit wage policy.

  10. 10.

    There stands a question, however, of what conceptions of fairness my account may exclude. For one, it seems to exclude recently popular legitimation approaches to management ethics (Scherer and Palazzo 2007; Schrempf-Stirling et al. 2016); if compensation must be legitimated through some kind of public discourse (Joutsenvirta 2013), secrecy would seem to preclude such legitimation.

  11. 11.

    Moriarty (2020, p. 124) argues that the incentive view takes on a “normative logic of effectiveness.” However, this logic only attaches by way of being associated with a demanding view of the corporate objective with a mandate to generate shareholder wealth. While I think Moriarty is right to associate the incentive view with theorists who adopt this kind of shareholder-centric paradigm, it bears repeating that there is no necessary analytical relationship between the two. We have good reason to think corporations have significant moral discretion to direct resources to different ends (Strudler 2017), whether wages are primarily incentives or not.

  12. 12.

    I thank an anonymous referee for pointing this out.

  13. 13.

    Since I am only considering in this particular section whether the prevention and policing of discrimination constitutes a reason to disclose pay, when I say something like “the firm does not have reason to disclose pay,” I generally mean, in this section, “the firm does not have reason to disclose pay in virtue of the imperative to prevent and police discrimination”.

  14. 14.

    Hereafter, when I say “cease discrimination” or “stop discrimination,” I mean with the qualification of “to the extent possible.” I will discuss herein issues relating to the extent to which companies may be limited in preventing or policing discrimination.

  15. 15.

    We might imagine circumstances in which this is the case. For example, a well-meaning CEO may lack the political power to institute new, costly discrimination prevention measures, but have the clout to enact a policy of pay disclosure. But there is no reason to think that this is the paradigm case.

  16. 16.

    It should be noted that the particular case of Google might merit a different analysis, given assertions by the Department of Labor of “extreme gender pay inequity” (Shu 2017). I use it here to advance an intuitive point, not to render a final judgment in this specific case.

  17. 17.

    I thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this worry.

  18. 18.

    One exception is Moriarty (2009), who argues that executives with fiduciary duties to a firm may have a moral duty to accept only (a version of) their reservation price.

  19. 19.

    Framing our discussion in terms of dyadic wage negotiations risks conveying an overly simplistic model of labor markets and pay negotiations. Wage determination processes are complex, involving a variety of labor market participants and institutions, most notably labor unions and occupational licensing authorities (Gittleman and Kleiner 2016). The structure and power of these institutions stand to affect trends in pay discrimination in significant ways—it has been argued, for instance, that labor unions provide disproportionate benefits to women (Porter 2013). In this article’s context, how we describe the duties in particular wage-setting environments may vary with the number of parties involved and their respective roles. My hope is that all of the conclusions I reach in discussing duties of employers to their employees here, though, are consistent with or easily transmutable to contexts in which several parties are involved in wage determination. My ultimate conclusion that pay secrecy is not obligatory in virtue of employee rights or interests can be redescribed to include overall labor union interests as well.

  20. 20.

    This line of reasoning is inspired by a discussion by Taurek (1977), who reasons in one case that if even the weakest of self-serving reasons can negate a supposed obligation, then it is best said that the obligation never existed at all.

  21. 21.

    Approaches rooted in the positivist organizational justice literature identify the just wage with the perceived just wage (Marasi et al. 2018; e.g., Marasi and Bennett 2016), even promoting ‘informational justice’ as a distinct psychological construct (Scheller and Harrison 2018); but normative ethics maintains a line between perception and reality (Alzola 2019; Kim and Donaldson 2016).

  22. 22.

    Note that this section engages only with this conditional claim. I do not seek to justify or argue that employers are obligated to provide a living wage. I only ask what their obligations are with regard to pay transparency if this is the case.

  23. 23.

    Fenster (2010, p. 626 n. 28) notes that, as of 2010, more than 550 Journals and Law Reviews in the Westlaw database used “sunlight” and “disinfectant” in the same sentence.

  24. 24.

    Popular business articles, in particular, are dotted with endorsements of transparency, often invoking prudential concerns alongside a vague concept of ‘trust’ as a justification for an unconditional imperative for transparency. For selections from the Harvard Business Review, see ‘The Strategic Benefits of Transparency’ (Balter 2007); 'Want Your Employees to Trust You? Show You Trust Them' (Brower et al. 2017); 'Winning in an Age of Radical Transparency' (Goleman, 2009) 'Trust in the Age of Transparency' (Kirby 2012); 'Trust Through Transparency' (Nayar 2009); 'What's Needed Next: A Culture of Candor' (O’Toole and Bennis 2009); 'Why Radical Transparency is Good Business' (Smith and Tabibnia 2012); 'Heed the Calls for Transparency' (Wilkin 2009).


  1. Adams, J. S. (1963). Towards an understanding of inequity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,67(5), 422.

  2. Albu, O. B., & Flyverbom, M. (2016). Organizational transparency: Conceptualizations, conditions, and consequences. Business & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/0007650316659851.

  3. Alchian, A. A., & Demsetz, H. (1972). Production, information costs, and economic organization. The American Economic Review,62(5), 777–795.

  4. Allen, A. L. (2002). Privacy isn’t everything: accountability as a personal and social good. Alabama Law Review,4, 1375–1392.

  5. Altman, A. (2016). Discrimination. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Stanford: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

  6. Alzola, M. (2019). Even when no one is watching: the moral psychology of corporate reputation. Business & Society.,58, 1267–1301.

  7. Amis, J. M., Mair, J., & Munir, K. A. (2019). The organizational reproduction of inequality. Academy of Management Annals,14(1), 195–230.

  8. Anand, V., & Rosen, C. C. (2008). The ethics of organizational secrets. Journal of Management Inquiry,17(2), 97–101. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492607312785.

  9. Arnold, D. G., & Bowie, N. E. (2003). Sweatshops and respect for persons. Business Ethics Quarterly,13(2), 221–242. https://doi.org/10.2307/3857660.

  10. Balter, D. (2007). The strategic benefits of transparency. Harvard Business Review.,75, 385.

  11. Bartlett, K. T. (2009). Making good on good intentions: The critical role of motivation in reducing implicit workplace discrimination. Virginia Law Review,95(8), 1893–1972.

  12. Bebchuk, L. A., & Fried, J. M. (2004). Executive compensation at Fannie mae: A case study of perverse incentives, nonperformance pay, and camouflage studies on executive pay. Journal of Corporation Law,30(4), 807–822.

  13. Belogolovsky, E., & Bamberger, P. A. (2014). Signaling in secret: Pay for performance and the incentive and sorting effects of pay secrecy. Academy of Management Journal,57(6), 1706–1733. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2012.0937.

  14. Bentham, J. (1908 [1802]). Theory of Legislation. (R. Hildreth, Trans.) (Translated from the French of Etienne Dumont). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Company.

  15. Bielby, W. T. (2000). Minimizing workplace gender and racial bias. Contemporary Sociology,29(1), 120–129. https://doi.org/10.2307/2654937.

  16. Bierman, L., & Gely, R. (2004). “Love, sex and politics? Sure. Salary? No way”: Workplace social norms and the law. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law,25(1), 167–191.

  17. Birkinshaw, P. (2006). Transparency as a human right. In C. Hood & D. Heald (Eds.), Transparency: The key to better governance (pp. 47–57). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  18. Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2000). Gender differences in pay. Journal of Economic Perspectives,14(4), 75–100.

  19. Bloom, M. (2004). The ethics of compensation systems. Journal of Business Ethics,52(2), 149–152.

  20. Bok, S. (1989). Secrets: On the ethics of concealment and revelation (Reissue ed.). New York: Vintage.

  21. Borradori, G. (2016). Between transparency and surveillance politics of the secret. Philosophy and Social Criticism,42(4–5), 456–464.

  22. Brandeis, L. D. (1914). Other people’s money, and how the bankers use it. New York: Stokes.

  23. Brennan, J. (2019). Should employers pay a living wage? Journal of Business Ethics,157(1), 15–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3724-y.

  24. Brower, H. H., Lester, S. W., & Korsgaard, M. A. (2017). Want your employees to trust you? Show you trust them. Harvard Business Review,47, 81–89.

  25. Burkus, D. (2016). Under new management: How leading organizations are upending business as usual. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

  26. Calland, R. (2007). Prizing open the profit-making world. In A. Florini (Ed.), The right to know: Transparency for an open world (pp. 214–242). New York: Columbia University Press.

  27. Calvasina, G. E., Calvasina, R. V., & Calvasina, E. J. (2015). Pay secrecy: Legal, policy, and practice issues for employers. Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues,18(2), 1.

  28. Canales, B. (2017). Closing the federal gender pay gap through wage transparency. Houston Law Review,55, 969–998.

  29. Carreyrou, J. (2018). Bad blood: Secrets and lies in a silicon valley startup. New York: Knopf.

  30. Carson, T. L., Wokutch, R. E., & Murrmann, K. F. (1982). Bluffing in labor negotiations: Legal and ethical issues. Journal of Business Ethics,1(1), 13–22.

  31. Castilla, E. J. (2008). Gender, race, and meritocracy in organizational careers. American Journal of Sociology,113(6), 1479–1526.

  32. Castilla, E. J. (2015). Accounting for the gap: A firm study manipulating organizational accountability and transparency in pay decisions. Organization Science,26(2), 311–333.

  33. Colella, A., Paetzold, R. L., Zardkoohi, A., & Wesson, M. J. (2007). Exposing pay secrecy. The Academy of Management Review,32(1), 55–71.

  34. Corvino, J. (2006). Reframing “Morality Pays”: toward a better answer to “Why be Moral?” in business. Journal of Business Ethics, 67(1), 1–14.

  35. Cory, J. (2001). Activist business ethics. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

  36. Cory, J. (2004). Business ethics: The ethical revolution of minority shareholders. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

  37. Cropanzano, R., Bowen, D. E., & Gilliland, S. W. (2007). The management of organizational justice. Academy of Management Perspectives,21(4), 34–48.

  38. Cullen, Z. B., & Perez-Truglia, R. (2018). The salary taboo: Privacy norms and the diffusion of information (Working Paper No. 25145). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://doi.org/10.3386/w25145.

  39. Dando, N., & Swift, T. (2003). Transparency and assurance: Minding the credibility gap. Journal of Business Ethics,44(2/3), 195–200.

  40. Danziger, L., & Katz, E. (1997). Wage secrecy as a social convention. Economic Inquiry,35(1), 59–69.

  41. De Maria, W. (2006). Brother secret, sister silence: Sibling conspiracies against managerial integrity. Journal of Business Ethics,65(3), 219–234.

  42. Dean, J. (2001). Publicity’s secret. Political Theory,29(5), 624–650.

  43. Dees, J. G., & Cramton, P. C. (1995). Deception and mutual trust: A reply to strudler. Business Ethics Quarterly,5(4), 823–832.

  44. Dennett, D. C., & Roy, D. (2015). How digital transparency became a force of nature. Scientific American,5, 82–94.

  45. Dishman, L. (2017). Activist investor demands that Google provide more data on its gender pay gap. Fast Company. Retrieved December 6, 2017 fromhttps://www.fastcompany.com/40474369/activist-investor-demands-that-google-provide-more-data-on-its-gender-pay-gap.

  46. Doll, J. (2012). How keeping salaries secret makes employees complicit in wage inequality. The Atlantic. Retrieved January 29, 2018 from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/05/how-keeping-salaries-secrets-makes-employees-complicit-wage-inequality/327457/.

  47. Donaldson, T. (1989). The ethics of international business. New York: Oxford University Press.

  48. Dreisbach, T. (2014). “Pay Secrecy” policies at work: Often illegal, and misunderstood. NPR. Org. Retrieved September 4, 2018 from https://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/301989789/pay-secrecy-policies-at-work-often-illegal-and-misunderstood.

  49. Dufresne, R. L., & Offstein, E. H. (2008). On the virtues of secrecy in organizations. Journal of Management Inquiry,17(2), 102–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492607313082.

  50. Duska, R. F. (2014). Why business ethics needs rhetoric: An aristotelian perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly,24(1), 119–134. https://doi.org/10.5840/beq20141271.

  51. Edwards, M. A. (2005). The law and social norms of pay secrecy. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law,26, 41–64.

  52. Eisenberg, D. T. (2011). Money, sex, and sunshine: A market-based approach to pay discrimination. Arizona State Law Journal,43, 951–1020.

  53. Eisenberg, E. M., & Witten, M. G. (1987). Reconsidering openness in organizational communication. The Academy of Management Review,12(3), 418–426.

  54. Elia, J. (2009). Transparency rights, technology, and trust. Ethics and Information Technology,11(2), 145–153. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-009-9192-z.

  55. Eliperin, J. (2014). Obama takes executive action to lift the veil of “pay secrecy.” Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2014/04/08/obama-takes-executive-action-to-lift-the-veil-of-pay-secrecy/. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  56. England, P. (2017). Comparable worth: Theories and evidence. New York: Routledge.

  57. Estlund, C. (2014). Extending the case for workplace transparency to information about pay. UC Irvine Law Review,4(2), 781.

  58. Etzioni, A. (2010). Is transparency the best disinfectant? Journal of Political Philosophy,18(4), 389–404. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9760.2010.00366.x.

  59. Eurofound. (2018). Pay transparency in Europe: First experiences with gender pay reports and audits in four Member States. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

  60. Fenster, M. (2010). Seeing the state: Transparency as metaphor. Administrative Law Review,62(3), 617–672.

  61. Fieser, J. (1996). Do businesses have moral obligations beyond what the law requires? Journal of Business Ethics,15(4), 457–468.

  62. Fisk, G. M. (2010). “I want it all and I want it now!” An examination of the etiology, expression, and escalation of excessive employee entitlement. Human Resource Management Review,20(2), 102–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hrmr.2009.11.001.

  63. Florini, A. (2000). The End of Secrecy. In B. I. Finel & K. M. Lord (Eds.), Power and conflict in the age of transparency (pp. 13–28). New York: Palgrave Macmillan US.

  64. Flyverbom, M. (2020). The digital prism: Transparency and visibility in the age of total information. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  65. Flyverbom, M., Christensen, L. T., & Hansen, H. K. (2015). The transparency-power nexus: Observational and regularizing control. Management Communication Quarterly,29(3), 385–410.

  66. Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972–1977. New York: Pantheon Books.

  67. Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books.

  68. Freeman, R. E., & Greenwood, M. (2020). Deepening methods in business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics,161(1), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04374-7.

  69. Frye, J., & Holmes, K. (2017). Wage discrimination: Behind the numbers. Center for American Progress. Retrieved August 10, 2017 from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2017/07/05/435190/wage-discrimination-behind-numbers/.

  70. Fung, A., Graham, M., & Weil, D. (2007). Full disclosure: The perils and promise of transparency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  71. Gibson, D. R. (2014). Enduring illusions: The social organization of secrecy and deception. Sociological Theory,32(4), 283–306. https://doi.org/10.1177/0735275114558631.

  72. Gittleman, M., & Kleiner, M. M. (2016). Wage effects of unionization and occupational licensing coverage in the United States. ILR Review,69(1), 142–172.

  73. Glassman, M., & Mcafee, R. B. (2005). Pay inversion at universities: is it ethical? Journal of Business Ethics,56(4), 325–333. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-004-5004-x.

  74. Goldman, B. M., Gutek, B. A., Stein, J. H., & Lewis, K. (2006). Employment discrimination in organizations: Antecedents and consequences. Journal of Management,32(6), 786–830. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206306293544.

  75. Goleman, D. (2009). Winning in an age of radical transparency. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved December 5, 2018 from https://hbr.org/2009/05/radical-transparency.

  76. Grey, C., & Costas, J. (2016). Secrecy at work: The hidden architecture of organizational life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  77. Gumpert, G., & Drucker, S. J. (2007). Through the looking glass: illusions of transparency and the cult of information. Journal of Management Development,26(5), 493–498.

  78. Hasnas, J. (2006). Trapped: when acting ethically is against the law. Washington, D.C: Cato Institute.

  79. Heald, D. (2006). Transparency as an INSTRUMENTAL VALue. In C. Hood & D. Heald (Eds.), Transparency: The key to better governance? (pp. 57–73). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  80. Heath, J. (2014). Morality, competition, and the firm: The market failures approach to business ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

  81. Hood, C. (2006). Transparency in historical perspective. In C. Hood & D. Heald (Eds.), Transparency: The key to better governance? (pp. 3–33). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  82. Hughes, R. C. (2013a). Law and Coercion. Philosophy Compass,8(3), 231–240. https://doi.org/10.1111/phc3.12013.

  83. Hughes, R. C. (2013b). Law and the entitlement to coerce. In W. Waluchow & S. Sciaraffa (Eds.), Philosophical foundations of the nature of law (pp. 183–206). Oxford: OUP Oxford.

  84. Jensen, M. C., & Meckling, W. H. (1976). Theory of the firm: Managerial behavior, agency costs and ownership structure. Journal of Financial Economics,3(4), 305–360. https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-405X(76)90026-X.

  85. Jones, G. M. (2014). Secrecy. Annual Review of Anthropology,43(1), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102313-030058.

  86. Joutsenvirta, M. (2013). Executive pay and legitimacy: changing discursive battles over the morality of excessive manager compensation. Journal of Business Ethics, 116(3), 459–477.

  87. Keane, C. (2008). Don’t ask, don’t tell: secrets: Their use and abuse in organizations. Journal of Management Inquiry,17(2), 107–110. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492607313233.

  88. Kim, T. W., & Donaldson, T. (2016). Rethinking right: Moral epistemology in management research. Journal of Business Ethics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-3009-2.

  89. Kirby, J. (2012). Trust in the age of transparency. Harvard Business Review,90(7/8), 158–159.

  90. Kolstad, I. (2007). Why firms should not always maximize profits. Journal of Business Ethics,76(2), 137–145.

  91. Korsgaard, C. M. (1996). The sources of normativity. In O. O’Neill (Ed.). Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

  92. Kulow, M. D. (2013). Beyond the paycheck fairness act: Mandatory wage disclosure laws - a necessary tool for closing the residual gender wage gap. Harvard Journal on Legislation,2, 385–436.

  93. Ladkin, D. (2018). ‘The Aesthetic’ and its relationship to business ethics: Philosophical underpinnings and implications for future research. Journal of Business Ethics,147(1), 35–51. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2928-2.

  94. Lamming, R. C., Caldwell, N. D., Harrison, D. A., & Phillips, W. (2001). Transparency in supply relationships: Concept and practice. The Journal of Supply Chain Management,37(4), 4–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-493X.2001.tb00107.x.

  95. Laufer, W. S. (2007). Law, ethics, and divergent rhetoric. Business Ethics Quarterly,17(3), 441–447.

  96. Laufer, W. S. (2010). Secrecy, silence, and corporate crime reforms. Criminology & Public Policy,9(3), 455–465. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2010.00641.x.

  97. Laufer, W. S. (2018). A very special regulatory milestone. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law,2, 392–428.

  98. Law, S. A. (2018). Income disparity, gender equality, and free expression. Fordham Law Review,6, 2479–2500.

  99. Lawler, E. E. (1972). Secrecy and the need to know. In H. Tosi, R. J. House, & M. D. Dunnette (Eds.), Managerial motivation and compensation (pp. 455–475). East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

  100. Lawler, E. E. (2012). Pay secrecy: Why bother? Forbes. Retrieved September 2, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardlawler/2012/09/12/pay-secrecy-why-bother/#7efa7ea26a60.

  101. Lawler, E. E. (2014). Why pay secrecy needs to end. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardlawler/2014/12/17/a-pay-secrecy-rant/#25a5d21dce24. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  102. Lerner, J. S., & Tetlock, P. E. (1999). Accounting for the effects of accountability. Psychological Bulletin,125(2), 255–275. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.125.2.255.

  103. Lightfoot, G., & Wisniewski, T. P. (2014). Information asymmetry and power in a surveillance society. Information and Organization,24(4), 214–235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infoandorg.2014.09.001.

  104. Lippert-Rasmussen, K. (2013). What is discrimination?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  105. Lobel, O. (forthcoming). Knowledge pays: Reversing information flows & the future of pay equity. Columbia Law Review. Retrieved September 18, 2019 from https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3373160.

  106. Lyons, S. (2012). Why the law should intervene to disrupt pay-secrecy norms: Analyzing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act through the lens of social norms. Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems, 46, 361–392.

  107. Machan, T. R. (2006). Business ethics in a new key. Journal of Private Entetprise,21(2), 159–172.

  108. Mahon, J. E. (2018). Secrets vs lies: Is there a moral asymmetry? In E. Michaelson & A. Stokke (Eds.), Lying: Language, knowledge, ethics, and politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  109. Maitland, I. (1985). The limits of business self-regulation. California Management Review,27(3), 132–147.

  110. Maitland, I. (1989). Rights in the workplace: A Nozickian argument. Journal of Business Ethics,8(12), 951–954.

  111. Marasi, S., & Bennett, R. J. (2016). Pay communication: Where do we go from here? Human Resource Management Review,26(1), 50–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hrmr.2015.07.002.

  112. Marasi, S., Wall, A., & Bennett, R. J. (2018). Pay openness movement: Is it merited? Does it influence more desirable employee outcomes than pay secrecy? Organization Management Journal,15(2), 58–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/15416518.2018.1471978.

  113. Moriarty, J. (2009). How much compensation can CEOs permissibly accept? Business Ethics Quarterly,19(2), 235–250. https://doi.org/10.5840/beq200919212.

  114. Moriarty, J. (2012). Justice in compensation: A defense. Business Ethics,21(1), 64–76. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8608.2011.01641.x.

  115. Moriarty, J. (2016). Is “equal pay for equal work” merely a principle of nondiscrimination? Economics and Philosophy,32(03), 435–461.

  116. Moriarty, J. (2018). Against pay secrecy. Journal of Applied Philosophy,35(4), 689–704.

  117. Moriarty, J. (2019). On the origin, content, and relevance of the market failures approach. Journal of Business Ethics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04106-x.

  118. Moriarty, J. (2020). What’s in a wage? A new approach to the justification of pay. Business Ethics Quarterly,30(1), 119–137.

  119. Morrison, E. W., & Milliken, F. J. (2000). Organizational silence: A barrier to change and development in a pluralistic world. Academy of Management Review,25(4), 706–725.

  120. Nagel, T. (1989). The view from nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  121. Nayar, V. (2009). Trust through transparency. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 6, 2018 from https://hbr.org/2009/01/trust-through-transparency.

  122. Nelson, J. S. (2018). Disclosure-driven crime. U.C. Davis Law Review,3, 1487–1584.

  123. Norman, W. (2011). Business ethics as self-regulation: Why principles that ground regulations should be used to ground beyond-compliance norms as well. Journal of Business Ethics,102(1), 43–57.

  124. Nosenzo, D. (2013). Pay secrecy and effort provision. Economic Inquiry,51(3), 1779–1794. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2012.00484.x.

  125. O’Neill, O. (2006). Transparency and the ethics of communication. In C. Hood & D. Heald (Eds.), Transparency: The key to better governance?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  126. O’Neill, O. (2009). Ethics for communication? European Journal of Philosophy,17(2), 167–180.

  127. O’Toole, J., & Bennis, W. (2009). What’s needed next: A culture of candor. Harvard Business Review,87(6), 54–61.

  128. Oliver, R. E. (2004). What is transparency? (1st ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

  129. Orts, E. W., & Sepinwall, A. (2014). Privacy and organizational persons. Minnesota Law Review,99, 2275.

  130. Otteson, J. R. (2006). Actual ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  131. Paine, L. S. (2000). Does ethics pay? Business Ethics Quarterly,10(1), 319–330. https://doi.org/10.2307/3857716.

  132. Patten, T. H. (1988). Fair pay: The managerial challenge of comparable job worth and job evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  133. Paul, E. F. (2019). Equity and gender. Abingdon: Routledge.

  134. Petersen, T., & Saporta, I. (2004). The opportunity structure for discrimination. American Journal of Sociology,109(4), 852–901. https://doi.org/10.1086/378536.

  135. Pfeffer, J. (1981). Power in organizations. Marshfield, MA: Pitman.

  136. Pfeffer, J., & Cohen, Y. (1984). Determinants of internal labor markets in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly,29(4), 550–572. https://doi.org/10.2307/2392939.

  137. Pompa, V. (1992). Managerial secrecy: An ethical examination. Journal of Business Ethics,11(2), 147–156.

  138. Porter, N. B. (2013). Women, unions, and negotiation symposium: Democracy and the workplace. Nevada Law Journal,14(2), 465–495.

  139. Porter, N. B., & Vartanian, J. R. (2011). Debunking the market myth in pay discrimination cases. Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law,12, 159.

  140. Provis, C. (2010). The ethics of impression management. Business Ethics,19(2), 199–212.

  141. Ramachandran, G. (2011). Pay transparency. Penn State Law Review,116, 1043–1080.

  142. Rhoads, S. E. (1994). Incomparable worth: Pay equity meets the market. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  143. Risher, H. (2014). Pay transparency is coming. Compensation & Benefits Review,46(1), 3–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886368714537445.

  144. Roberts, J. (2009). No one is perfect: The limits of transparency and an ethic for ‘intelligent’ accountability. Accounting, Organizations and Society,34(8), 957–970. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aos.2009.04.005.

  145. Rosenfeld, J. (2017). Don’t ask or tell: Pay secrecy policies in US workplaces. Social Science Research,65, 1–16.

  146. Sagar, R. (2015). Against moral absolutism: Surveillance and disclosure after snowden. Ethics & International Affairs,29(2), 145–159. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0892679415000040.

  147. Sayers, R. C. (2012). The cost of being female: Critical comment on Block. Journal of Business Ethics, 106(4), 519–524. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-1017-4.

  148. Schauer, F. (1983). Rights and the right to know. Philosophic Exchange,14(1), 65–74.

  149. Scheller, E. M., & Harrison, W. (2018). Ignorance is bliss, or is it? The effects of pay transparency, informational justice and distributive justice on pay satisfaction and affective commitment. Compensation & Benefits Review,50(2), 65–81. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886368719833215.

  150. Scheppele, K. L. (1988). Legal secrets: Equality and efficiency in the common law. Chicago: University of Chicago press.

  151. Schipper, F., & Bojé, D. (2008). Transparency, integrity and openness: The nike example. In A. Scherer & G. Palazzo (Eds.), Handbook of research on global corporate citizenship. Worcester: Edward Elgar.

  152. Schnackenberg, A. K., & Tomlinson, E. C. (2016). Organizational transparency: A new perspective on managing trust in organization-stakeholder relationships. Journal of Management,42(7), 1784–1810. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206314525202.

  153. Schrempf-Stirling, J., Palazzo, G., & Phillips, R. A. (2016). Historic corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review41(4), 700–719.

  154. Scherer, A. G., & Palazzo, G. (2007). Toward a political conception of corporate responsibility: business and society seen from a habermasian perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 32(4), 1096–1120.

  155. Shellenbarger, S. (2016). Open salaries: The good, the bad and the awkward. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 8, 2017 from http://www.wsj.com/articles/open-salaries-the-good-the-bad-and-the-awkward-1452624480.

  156. Shu, C. (2017). Judge sides with Google in its battle with the Labor Department over employee pay data. TechCrunch. https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/16/judge-sides-with-google-in-its-battle-with-the-labor-department-over-employee-pay-data/. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  157. Simmel, G. (1906). The sociology of secrecy and of secret societies. American Journal of Sociology,11(4), 441–498.

  158. Singer, A. (2018a). Justice failure: efficiency and equality in business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 149(1), 97–115.

  159. Singer, D. J. (2018b). How to be an epistemic consequentialist. The Philosophical Quarterly, 68(272), pp. 580–602, https://doi.org/10.1093/pq/pqx056.

  160. Smit, B. W., & Montag-Smit, T. (2018). The role of pay secrecy policies and employee secrecy preferences in shaping job attitudes. Human Resource Management Journal,28(2), 304–324. https://doi.org/10.1111/1748-8583.12180.

  161. Smith, D. G. (1997). The shareholder primacy norm. Journal of Corporation Law,23, 277–324.

  162. Smith, J., & Dubbink, W. (2011). Understanding the role of moral principles in business ethics: A kantian perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly,21(2), 205–231.

  163. Smith, R. and Tabibnia, G. (2012). Why Radical Transparency Is Good Business. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 15, 2018 from https://hbr.org/2012/10/why-radical-transparency-is-good-business.

  164. Snedegar, J. (2014). Contrastive reasons and promotion. Ethics,125(1), 39–63. https://doi.org/10.1086/677025.

  165. Sorensen, E. (2019). Comparable worth: Is it a worthy policy?. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  166. Stevenson, R. B. (1980). Corporations and information: Secrecy, access and disclosure. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  167. Stiglitz, J. E. (2002). Information and the change in the paradigm in economics. American Economic Review,92(3), 460–501.

  168. Strudler, A. (1995). On the ethics of deception in negotiation. Business Ethics Quarterly,5(4), 805–822. https://doi.org/10.2307/3857416.

  169. Strudler, A. (2005). Deception unraveled. The Journal of Philosophy,102(9), 458–473.

  170. Strudler, A. (2017). What to do with corporate wealth. Journal of Political Philosophy,25(1), 108–126. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopp.12106.

  171. Sunstein, C. R. (1991). Why markets don’t stop discrimination. Social Philosophy and Policy,8(2), 22–37. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0265052500001114.

  172. Taurek, J. M. (1977). Should the numbers count? Philosophy & Public Affairs,6(4), 293–316.

  173. Tetlock, P. E. (1983a). Accountability and the perseverance of first impressions. Social Psychology Quarterly,46(4), 285–292. https://doi.org/10.2307/3033716.

  174. Tetlock, P. E. (1983b). Accountability and complexity of thought. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,45(1), 74–83. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.45.1.74.

  175. Trotter, R. G., Zacur, S. R., & Stickney, L. T. (2017). The new age of pay transparency. Business Horizons,60(4), 529–539. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2017.03.011.

  176. Turilli, M., & Floridi, L. (2009). The ethics of information transparency. Ethics and Information Technology,11(2), 105–112. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-009-9187-9.

  177. Van De Bunt, H. (2010). Walls of secrecy and silence: The Madoff case and cartels in the construction industry. Criminology & Public Policy,9(3), 435–453.

  178. Van den Hoven, J., & Rooksby, E. (2008). Distributive justice and the value of information: A (Broadly) Rawlsian approach. In J. Van den Hoven & J. Weckert (Eds.), Information technology and moral philosophy (pp. 376–395). New York: Cambridge University Press.

  179. Veldman, T. (2017). Pay transparency in the EU. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

  180. Wakabayashi, D. (2017, September 8). At Google, employee-led effort finds men are paid more than women. The New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2018 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/technology/google-salaries-gender-disparity.html.

  181. Waluchow, W. (1988). Pay equity: Equal value to whom? Journal of Business Ethics,7(3), 185–189.

  182. Wexler, M. N. (1987). Conjectures on the dynamics of secrecy and the secrets business. Journal of Business Ethics,6(6), 469–480.

  183. Wilkin, S. (2009). Heed the calls for transparency. Harvard Business Review,87(7/8), 16–17.

  184. Williams, B. (1981). Persons, character, and morality. In J. Rachels (Ed.), Moral luck: Philosophical papers (pp. 1973–1980). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  185. Wynn, A. T., & Correll, S. J. (2018). Combating gender bias in modern workplaces. In B. J. Risman, C. M. Froyum, & W. J. Scarborough (Eds.), Handbook of the sociology of gender (pp. 509–521). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76333-0_37.

  186. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions pay transparency regulations. Office of Federal Contract Compliances Programs. https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/faqs/PayTransparencyFAQs.html#Q2.

  187. Young, I. M. (2010). Responsibility for justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  188. Young, C. (2019). Putting the law in its place: Business ethics and the assumption that illegal implies unethical. Journal of Business Ethics,160(1), 35–51.

  189. Zuboff, S. (1989). In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power (Reprint ed.). New York: Basic Books.

  190. Zwolinski, M. (2007). Sweatshops, choice, and exploitation. Business Ethics Quarterly,17(4), 689–727. https://doi.org/10.2307/27673206.

Download references


The author would like to thank audiences at the Wharton-INSEAD Doctoral Consortium, Society for Business Ethics, and Academy of Management. He would also like to thank Tom Donaldson, Vikram Bhargava, Alan Strudler, Dan Singer, Tae Wan Kim, Amy Sepinwall, and Carson Young for invaluable comments and discussions. Two anonymous referees also provided comments that benefited this article greatly.

Author information

Correspondence to Matthew Caulfield.

Ethics declarations

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest in publishing this article. Funding support was provided by the Institute for Humane Studies.

Ethical Approval

No human subjects were involved in this research, and my research has complied with all ethical standards.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Caulfield, M. Pay Secrecy, Discrimination, and Autonomy. J Bus Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04455-y

Download citation


  • Pay secrecy
  • Compensation ethics
  • Organizational transparency/secrecy