By law, women in Germany can now find out what their male peers are earning

“Same wage, same work.”
“Same wage, same work.”
Image: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Germany has taken a step towards trying to tackle its significant gender pay gap with a new law. As of Jan. 6, employees will be allowed to find out what their co-workers are making. At 21%, the pay gap between men and women in Germany is quite a bit higher than the 2015 EU average of 16.3%.

The Wage Transparency Act (pdf in German) stipulates that men and women who do the same jobs must be paid the same amount, and says that introducing more transparency will help close the pay gap and create equal opportunities for women. It works both ways, men can also check on the average female colleagues’ salaries.

However, the law, which was passed in January last year, only applies to companies with more than 200 employees. And only firms with more than 500 staff will be legally required to provide a report on their pay structure and gender equality.

Plus, women cannot request to find out how much an individual male co-worker earns—the law allows them only to discover the median remuneration (inclusive of things like company cars and bonuses) based on at least six colleagues of the opposite sex in the same or a comparable role.

Christian Althaus, an employment lawyer told Der Spiegel (link in German) last year that the “six person” rule is problematic. “The higher up you go in the pyramid of a company, the less likely you are to find a comparably large peer group, with the result that you no longer have any right to information,” Althaus said.

The German law seems like a half-way measure compared to Iceland, which this week made it illegal to pay men more than women. Companies and government agencies employing at least 25 people will have to obtain government certification of their equal-pay policies, or face fines.

Iceland is the first country in the world to ban pay discrimination on the basis of gender, but one of its nearest neighbors, Norway, has long enabled its citizens to check up on each others’ salaries. In 2011, the government put everyone’s salary and tax details online, which sparked a snooping frenzy. That has calmed down since 2014, when the government made it mandatory for people to use their national ID number to make salary searches.