You likely know that people who have similar skills and experience and who perform the same type of work for an employer have a right to equal pay regardless of their race, gender, or other protected characteristics. However, it can be difficult to determine whether you are being fairly paid without being able to discuss your salary with others. Many employees believe that they can get in trouble if they discuss their wages with their coworkers. However, employers can’t prohibit salary discussions. Here is what you need to know from the employment attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Federal Protections for Salary Discussions
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that makes it illegal for employers to fire employees based on their employees talking about their wages in the workplace. Former President Barack Obama also signed an executive order in 2014 called the Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information. This order further clarified the importance of the NLRA and confirmed the fact that you can talk to your coworkers about how much you earn in a pay period.
Under Obama’s executive order, federal contractors also can’t prohibit their employees from talking about compensation. This is because it is difficult for employees to discover they are not being paid fairly without having the ability to talk about their compensation. Employers are further prohibited under the executive order from discriminating against employees or applicants because they have talked about or disclosed their compensation.
Under the NLRA, employers are also prohibited from restricting the activities of their employees in relation to collective bargaining or mutual aid. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the agency tasked with enforcing the NLRA. It has interpreted this section of the NLRA to mean that employees have the right to discuss their wages. The NLRA applies to most private-sector employers, excluding state, local, and federal governments, employers who are governed by the Railway Labor Act, and employers that only employ agricultural workers.
There is an important exception to the rule, however. If you have access to your employer’s payroll information, you can’t share the payment information of employees with others unless you have been directed by an investigative agency or your employer to do so. This means that you don’t have the right to share information about an employee’s salary with others.
Employer Actions When Employees Discuss Wages
Employers are prohibited from disciplining employees for discussing their wages on their own time. They also can’t have rules prohibiting employees from doing so. However, they might want to reduce jealousy in the workplace that might arise when people talk about salaries. Employers should have a system in place for salaries. Instead of punishing employees who talk about compensation, employers should instead have compensation policies in place so that employees understand how salaries are determined. Employees should also be given a chance to file complaints when they believe their salaries are unfair. Employers should also be transparent about how employees might work to increase their salaries through merit increases, certifications, and training.
Is Salary Information Confidential?
While employees have the right to talk about their wages with each other, companies must still maintain a degree of confidentiality. For example, if you want to know how much one of your coworkers makes, you are free to ask your coworker. Your coworker does not have to share that information with you, and you also do not have the right to demand your company’s human resources department tell you what your coworker’s salary is without their permission.
The Legality of Pay Secrecy Policies
Many employers understand that workers believe pay discussions can be restricted. Other employers also have the same mistaken belief that they can restrict employees from talking about pay and implement pay secrecy policies. These types of policies are illegal, however. While an employer might have an implied or written pay secrecy policy to discourage discussions about salaries in the workplace, these types of policies violate the NLRA.
To get around this issue, some employers try to use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to prohibit discussions about pay. An NDA is a confidentiality agreement that requires the parties to keep certain information secret. Most NDAs are used to protect a company’s trade secrets, customer lists, and sales strategies. While NDAs are legal, they cannot include provisions that prohibit pay discussions. If they do, those provisions are invalid and unenforceable. Since salary discussions are protected by the NLRA, a non-disclosure agreement won’t work to prevent an employee from talking about compensation with others.
Can You Be Fired for Pay Discussions?
The NLRA has been the law for decades. However, many people still believe that their employers can retaliate against them or fire them for talking about their compensation. In some cases, employers might tell their employees that they are prohibited from talking about their salaries. Even if your employer has said this, you can’t be fired simply for talking about your pay with your coworkers. If your employer disciplines or fires you for discussing your compensation, you can file a claim for illegal retaliation against the company.
Talk to Swartz Swidler
If your employer has discharged you because you talked about your compensation with others at work or outside of work, you might be entitled to file a lawsuit. Contact the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler to learn about your rights by calling 856-685-7420.