It’s only natural for people to be curious about how much money their colleagues earn. An employee expects their wages to be roughly equivalent to those earned by others in the same or similar positions.
Of course, there may be some differentiation if one employee has been in the company considerably longer or brings special skills or experience to the job. There are generally ranges, however, that wages or salary for a position must fit within.
Employers used to be able to prohibit employees from discussing wages and salaries. That’s no longer the case, at least for most private employers.
What does federal law say?
Federal law – specifically the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) — allows employees covered under the law to “have discussions about wages when not at work, when you are on break, and even during work if employees are permitted to have other non-work conversations.” The NLRA covers most employees in the private sector. Some exceptions include:
- Interstate rail and airline employees
- Independent contractors
- Agricultural workers
- Employees of religious organizations (including schools)
For those who are allowed to discuss wages, where you still could potentially get in trouble is if you’re emailing or messaging with a co-worker on company equipment about wages if your employer has a strict policy against using company resources for non-work purposes. While this subject is work-related, they could make the argument that it’s not, which could cause headaches that you don’t need or deserve to suffer.
However, they can’t take any negative action based on the fact that you were discussing wages. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), “it is unlawful for your employer to punish or retaliate against you in any way” for doing that. It’s also illegal for employers that are covered under the NLRA to “have a work rule, policy, or hiring agreement that prohibits employees from discussing their wages with each other or that requires you to get the employer’s permission to have such discussions.”
Not all employers know or follow the law
If an organization is paying its employees at fair and comparable rates, those in charge should have no fear about them checking in with one another. Unfortunately, not all employers know – or actively choose to honor – the law. Some may know that they can’t prohibit these discussions, but they count on their employees not to know their rights or assert them.
If you have been penalized by your employer for rightfully discussing salaries with co-workers and you haven’t been able to resolve the matter within the company, it can help to get legal guidance to determine what options you have.