Ask the Lawyer: Is it legal to stop people from talking about how much they earn?
EMPLOYER VIOLATES EMPLOYEE RIGHTS WHEN IT BARS SALARY DISCUSSIONS
QUESTION: My friend and I both work at the same company. We learned by accident that one of our co-workers, who does the same work we do, is earning almost $10,000 more per year. He’s a man; we’re women. Anyway, we started asking other people if they would tell us what they make. Our supervisor called us in, said he had heard we were asking people to divulge their salary info, and warned us that we would be fired if we kept it up. So, we stopped. Is it legal to stop people from talking about how much they earn? Before we were told to stop, we found that almost all the men who would talk to us made more than the women.
ANSWER: No, it is not legal. Under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act it is an unfair labor practice” to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” who are exercising their “right to self-organization … and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.” Although the 1935 law was originally passed to protect efforts to unionize, it has been interpreted as protecting the right to discuss the terms and conditions of employment – and courts have held that salary is a term or condition of employment.
Work rules that bar discussion of “confidential information”, and include working conditions such as pay under that broad definition have been routinely struck down. That said, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot assess penalties against employers who violate the Act. It can seek “make-whole” remedies like reinstatement and back pay for discharged workers, or requiring an employer to post a notice detailing the employees’ rights and promising not to violate the law.
Back pay can amount to a lot. In 2013 a woman received two years of back pay, and the option of getting her job back, when she won a case against a former employer that had fired her two years earlier for talking about salary issues.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, if you have questions about discussing salaries at work, you should get in touch with an experience attorney. The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com.
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GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan
ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
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