We live in a society that increasingly demands transparency but at the same time puts a growing level of importance on privacy and confidentiality. This leads to a great deal of confusion in the workplace, especially regarding issues of employee performance and pay rates. Almost all of us have, at some point in our lives, encountered a job where management actively discouraged discussion of pay rates between employees and wondered if this is legal or ethical to do so. Is this a good policy?
The simplest answer to this question is that no, in general, it is not legal for an employer to forbid employees to talk about their wages or salaries, either in person or online. In the past, this sat in somewhat of a legal gray area, although for the past three years it’s been set in stone. Read about the relationship between privacy and salary issues, and why it’s generally illegal to forbid your staff members to discuss pay issues.
Privacy, Salary, and the NLRA
The National Labor Relations Act is a set of laws that seek to regulate the job market for the purpose of ensuring that everyone gets a fair shake at work. The majority of companies in the United States are covered by the NLRA, which is overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB.
Specifically, Section 7 of the NLRA allows employees to:
- Organize, assist, join and form a union
- Engage in good-faith, collective bargaining through their chosen representatives
- Act as a group for protection and mutual aid
- Choose whether to engage in any other protected activities including the discussion of wages and the conditions and terms of employment.
Strengthened by Executive Order
As of April 2014, an Executive Order signed by President Obama and backed by the NLRB makes it illegal for employers to prohibit workers from discussing compensation. This executive order extends to all companies covered by the NLRA and any companies not covered by the act but which are federal contractors, addressing important issues of privacy and salary.
Employees and the Right to Discuss Pay
The executive order not only clarifies that employees have the right to discuss pay, but that employers are forbidden from any sort of discrimination or retaliation based on a worker’s choice to do so. This means that workers can talk about their salary in person, one-on-one, in groups or even on social media and the internet.
These rights have been upheld by the NLRB for years and are seen as an important aspect of collective bargaining as well as wage equality issues. It is thought that allowing and encouraging open discussion of wage and salaries will allow formerly disadvantaged workers to be able to overcome existing wage gaps as awareness of standard salaries becomes more clear.
Getting Help with Compliance
Whether you’re covered by the NLRA or are a federal contractor, keeping in compliance with all applicable federal laws can be a real challenge. From good faith activities to affirmative action, from employee handbooks to the latest legal changes, QuadWest’s HR consultants have the experience and expertise to keep your company above board and by the book. Give us a call for more information or help today.