Employers often discourage their employees from discussing and comparing their wages and salaries. As one can imagine, learning that a coworker brings home a few hundred (or a thousand) dollars more than you annually or each pay period can foment discord and resentment among workers.
That’s just what the companies hope to avoid when they say that salary and wage discussions should not take place. But is it legal to forbid these frank discussions?
Employees have rights to engage in concerted activities
Many nonunion employees are unaware that they have certain rights under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). They may mistakenly believe that because their workplace is nonunion that they have no recourse to protest unsafe working conditions or wage and benefit disparities.
Conditions apply, of course, regarding your employment situation and the activities in which you take part. But most workers have more rights than they realize. For instance, suppose you are a woman or a minority worker for a company. You learn or suspect that the company pays white males $3 more an hour for performing the same tasks and having the same skill sets as female employees and workers of color.
While your boss might not want you sharing this information or discussing the salary and wage differences by gender or race, they cannot legally prevent you and your colleagues from collectively trying to improve working conditions or raising pay rates.
What about the company’s side of the story?
While there can be no rules forbidding these discussions between and among workers, companies are not compelled to encourage sharing of financial compensation and other benefits in the workforce. They may even request that such information not be shared by employees. But these companies cannot take punitive actions against workers who share salary and wage data or seek to obtain higher compensation for their and their colleagues’ work efforts.
How to be sure what applies in your circumstances
If you are unsure if your company or employees are engaging in illegal activities or unsafe practices, you can clarify your situation by seeking professional legal guidance. That will help you know which actions you can and cannot take going forward.