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Can we prohibit salary talk?

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

BY RALPH A. PETERSON and JOHN F. WINDHAM

Q. As an alternative to layoffs, our company has cut employee wages. We decided to do that instead of reducing their hours. While the employees have agreed to this (hopefully) temporary measure, supervisors have received reports that workers have been discussing their new wages and salaries with one another. Our executives want to direct all employees not to discuss their wages and salary information with others. Is it legal to enforce such a rule?

A. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the general rule is that an employer violates the NLRA when it orders employees not to discuss their wages and salary information. When the employees engage in such communications, they are discussing working conditions among themselves. As such, they are engaged in protected, concerted activity.

The right of employees to engage in such conversations is “protected” because it relates to terms and conditions of their employment. It is “concerted” because the discussions involve more than one employee.

In addition, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has held that rules like the one you are considering unlawfully inhibit employees from considering whether to unionize. (Note that you can apply such a rule to managers and supervisors who are not protected by the NLRA; however, such a rule may be difficult to monitor or enforce.)

Finally, the protection afforded employees under the NLRA does not extend to an employee’s use of information that is unavailable in the normal course of work activity or association, such as confidential wage-and-salary information obtained from the employer’s private records and files.

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