Of MySpace & Money: Don’t try to muzzle millennials’ salary talk

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

You’d never discuss how much money you make, right? Dude, that attitude is so 20th century! The 20-somethings you work with eagerly dish about salaries, bonuses and other work topics you might consider taboo. Managers tempted to forbid such talk? Don’t let them! Here's why.

You may not like the idea of employees comparing pay stubs, but don't even think about trying to silence such off-duty chats. If you do, you could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), regardless of whether you employ a unionized work force.

Younger employees of the Millennial generation don’t share the reticence baby boomers and Gen-Xers have about discussing salary, according to a recent New York Times article. Whether bragging on MySpace.com about their raises, swapping negotiating strategies at happy hour or even comparing bonuses in the break room, young workers aren’t shy about talking about pay.

Older staff (read: management) often worry that salary talk hurts morale—and could raise awkward questions about pay equity and fairness. So it’s understandable that they might want employees to keep a lid on it. That’s a bad idea.

As two court rulings show, the NLRA makes it illegal for you to ban or punish employee discussions of working conditions, pay, benefits or promotions. Also, several states consider employer bans on salary discussions a violation of "public policy."

Case 1: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) struck down a California day spa's policy that said employees would be disciplined for any "negative comments" about managers or co-workers. The board said employees could construe the policy to prevent discussions that might affect their working conditions. (KSL Claremont Resort v. SHERU)

Case 2: NLRB also ruled against a company whose handbook said it "recognizes and protects the confidentiality of any information" concerning employees. NLRB said employees could view that wording as a ban on discussions about pay and work conditions. Such a ban would violate the NLRA. (Cintas Corp. v. UNITE)

Key point: While you can't limit such off-duty discussions, you do have the right to set reasonable rules about talking on the job if maintaining a quiet workplace is a business necessity. Example: You can tell employees to discuss nothing but business in front of customers.

Final tip: Organized labor is staging somewhat of a comeback, with aggressive efforts to organize service workers. These unions are looking for obvious employers to target. Banning workplace discussions about pay and wages could quickly put you on the list.

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