It's something that many of us have experienced at some point in our working lives. On your first day of work at a new job, it's not uncommon to spend a little time filling out some necessary paperwork and going over some of the standard policies and expectations of your new employer. It's usually around this time, in the early days of your employment with any company, that you may also be informed of a policy that strongly discourages or prohibits employees from discussing the details of their personal wages, benefits or other compensation with each other. Doing so, you're informed, can result in disciplinary action - including being fired from your job.
Raising awareness about pay secrecy policies
Policies like this - often referred to as "pay secrecy" policies - could be presented as an official policy in writing and are often part of a larger employee handbook full of other policies. They might just be implied verbally, by someone in a position of seniority, like your supervisor or manager. And honestly, policies like this may not phase us when we're initially presented with them - for several possible reasons. If it is a new job, you may not know any of your coworkers yet, making it unlikely that you'd sit down for coffee and a chat about your paychecks.
Or maybe it just seems like a logical request. Money can be a sensitive topic and there are plenty of people who feel uncomfortable discussing their personal finances with others, whether there's a rule that prohibits it or not. If the practice of having official measures in place to prevent the discussion of wage rates or other compensations between employees is in line with your own feelings about the topic, it probably won't seem like an unreasonable expectation. But you may still find yourself wondering, sooner or later - is it actually legal for your employer to ban you and your fellow employees from having that conversation? And if you do, will they have legal grounds to fire you?
The NLRA and the protection of concerted protected activity
Fortunately, in most cases, the answer is no - your employer cannot fire you for having a conversation with a fellow employee about your wages, benefits or other similar, relevant information. In fact, pay secrecy policies are illegal and the enforcement of them is, in turn, unlawful.
This protection is provided by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which gives employees the right to participate in what is referred to in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as "protected concerted activity". For something to be considered a protected, concerted activity, it needs to fulfill the following criteria:
● Concerted activity can consist of one employee acting on the authority of other employees or it can consist of two or more employees engaging in an activity together.
● The concerted activity must be for the purpose of mutual aid or protection and concern working conditions, wages, hours, employee benefits or any other terms or conditions of employment.
It is also noteworthy that the protections of the NLRA extend as far as an employee's activity on their personal social media accounts, meaning that as long as something posted by an employee about their pay or other relevant information doesn't violate any other, lawful policies of their employer, they can't be disciplined for posting it.
If you have found yourself in a workplace situation that you feel is in violation of your rights under the NLRA and you would like to discuss your possible legal options to defend those rights, don't hesitate - we may be able to help. Call our office today to schedule a free evaluation of your case with one of our very knowledgeable and experienced employment law attorneys.