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You can punish employees for improperly sharing salary information—in some cases

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

By federal law, employees have the right to discuss salaries and benefits with one another. Plus, in North Carolina, members of the public also have the right to specific information about public employees’ salaries.

That does not mean, however, that public employers can’t reprimand employees who break rules against distributing that information in a way that creates conflict or animosity.

Recent case: Ophelia Munn-Goins worked as an instructor at Bladen Community College. Every year, she asked HR for a copy of the salary schedules for all college employees. She was entitled to that information under North Carolina law, and HR always cooperated. She then shared it with a few faculty friends.

One year, after getting the updated information, she left it lying about. Someone (no one ever admitted doing so) then put copies in all faculty mailboxes with comments like “UNFAIR!” and “INEQUITY IS AMAZING!” scribbled across the pages. Apparently this caused quite an uproar, and Munn-Goins received a reprimand. 

She sued, alleging her free-speech rights had been violated. 

The court tossed out the case, reasoning that the college had the right to punish her for disseminating the information in a way that would trigger animosity. (Munn-Goins v. Trustees, No. 7:08-CV-21-D, ED NC, 2009)

Final note: Before punishing employees for distributing salary information, consult your attorney. Munn-Goins didn’t raise unfair labor practice claims under federal labor laws. The National Labor Relations Board might consider the reprimand an unfair labor practice that had a chilling effect on the right to organize.

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