It’s OK to Discuss Your Pay With Co-Workers

Photo (cc) by Highways Agency

“Don’t tell your co-workers how much you get paid.” If your boss has uttered those words, he’s most likely breaking the law.

According to The Atlantic’s Jonathan Timm, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects workers’ right to talk to each another about wages, as well as hours and other employment issues. (“The law does not cover government employees, agricultural laborers, independent contractors, and supervisors (with limited exceptions),” the National Labor Relations Board says.)

It’s a little known (and understood) labor right, Cynthia Estlund, a law professor at New York University, explained to NPR.

Despite the NLRA protections for workers, it’s common for workplaces to prohibit or discourage employees from discussing with co-workers how much they get paid.

A report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that roughly half of U.S. employers either strongly warn workers against having salary discussions or they have policies in place prohibiting it. The percentage rises to 61 percent when considering solely private-sector businesses. According to NPR:

The National Labor Relations Board, says Estlund, “has long held that these pay secrecy policies that many employers have in writing violate the National Labor Relations Act.”

Even if an employee signs a non-disclosure agreement with an employer, Estlund says, the employee would still be protected when talking about salary.

Timm wrote that pay gag rules may also be commonplace because employers aren’t afraid of the consequences of violating the law. “When employees file complaints, the National Labor Relations Board’s ‘remedies’ are slaps on the wrist: reinstatement for wrongful termination, back pay, and/or ‘informational remedies’ such as ‘the posting of a notice by the employer promising to not violate the law,’” Timm said.

The proposed federal Paycheck Fairness Act, aimed at bolstering penalties for employers who try to punish workers who discuss pay as well as requiring that employers validate wage differentials, has been blocked three times by Republican lawmakers, Timm said.

While many people argue that openness about wages could destroy workplace collegiality, I think secrecy about what people get paid enables the gender pay gap in the U.S.

What do you think? Did you know that your boss can’t discourage you from talking about pay issues with your co-workers? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Now, here’s a video explaining how your appearance can affect your salary.

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