Water Cooler Talk: Can My Employer Tell Me Not to Discuss My Salary With Coworkers?

fadi-yousefCan my employer tell me not to discuss my salary with coworkers?

The answer to this question is no. Federal labor laws prohibit employers from restraining, interfering with, or coercing employees who collectively participate in activities related to the terms and conditions of their employment. Those Terms and conditions cover a broad range of topics, like employees discussing wages, hourly rates, salaries, bonuses, commissions, and any other form of payment. For that reason, an employer cannot tell its employees not to discuss their pay amongst themselves. Otherwise, that would be a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). And it does not matter if the employer has a union. Both unionized and non-unionized employees are protected.

Are all employers and employees covered?

No. The NLRA applies to most private sector employers, including manufacturers, retailers, private universities, and health care facilities. While it is true that the NLRA is very broad, there are certain employers and employees who are not covered by the law. For example, supervisors and managers are not considered employees for purposes of the NLRA. A supervisor or manager is generally someone who has authority to hire, fire, or discipline employees. Additionally, the NLRA does not apply to federal, state, or local government employees or employees who work for railway, airline, or transportation companies that are covered by the Railway Labor Act. These employees are not afforded any NLRA protections. A narrow exception may apply to a manager or a supervisor who refuses to violate the NLRA and ends up being discriminated or retaliated against.

What if my employer fires me for speaking with my coworkers about wages?

Firing an employee for speaking with coworkers about wages, or for refusing to listen to a supervisor’s order not to speak with coworkers about wages, is a violation of the NLRA. If an employer violates the NLRA, the employee has the right to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The Board investigates complaints and protects employee rights. If you believe your employee rights have been violated, contact an attorney to learn more about what you can do.

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