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Can You Stop Employees From Discussing Their Salary?

In our last blog, we talked about non-poaching agreements and why employers can not divulge employee salaries to competitors and other actions that would violate antitrust laws. (You can read that blog here.) It was mentioned that while the employer cannot share this information, they cannot stop an employee from doing so. This week we’ll share why.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) protects workers’ rights to discuss their salaries. It protects both union and non-union workers and their right to be able to act with “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” and “organize a union to negotiate with [their] employer concerning [their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” Virtually all employees, union and nonunion, are covered under this act with the exception of federal, state, or government workers, air and rail employees, independent contractors, and agricultural workers.

Compensation and benefits can be a sensitive topic and one that has typically been talked about in hushed voices and a fair amount of secrecy. Employers may want to keep salaries secret in order to prevent any feelings of unfairness between employees. But if there is a policy in place prohibiting employees from discussing their salaries, that policy is unlawful. If an employee were to be fired for violating it, they would have a case under the NLRA. Employees cannot be forbidden to talk about their salaries, benefits, or job conditions whether that discussion takes place in person or through social media.

So if the employer cannot stop the discussion regarding salary, how can they head-off any feelings of discontent or jealousy in the workplace if co-workers divulge salaries to each other?

  • Review your pay records and determine if employees are being paid fairly. Are there large discrepancies in pay between similar jobs? If so, how did that come to be? Did certain employees earn merit increases, or is it due to the length of employment, or additional skills? If any of those are a factor, they should be addressed as part of a pay structure analysis and then you’ll be able to refer to those criteria when discussing perceived pay inequities.

  • Ensure that employees are comfortable approaching management with any concerns regarding pay equity or working conditions. Be sure that staff is trained so that they can assist employees in understanding the salary range for the position they hold and how gaining additional certifications or education could help them increase their salary and advance their career within the organization.

  • Periodically survey your employees. Ask for information regarding how they feel about their salaries, benefits, working conditions, office morale, and compensation expectations. An engaged workforce is key to retention. An employee who feels they are heard and valued is less likely to look for other opportunities.

Allowing employees to discuss their salaries won’t inevitably lead to hurt feelings and a toxic workplace. Embrace a transparent and objective approach to compensation and you’ll find that feelings of mutual trust between management and employees will grow.

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