Discussions regarding salaries and wages can often become confusing, especially because the idea that employees are not able to discuss what they make with their co-workers has become commonplace. This idea is often supported by employers who want to discourage their staff from discussing their salaries both at work and on personal time.
Employers may discourage salary discussion between employees because it can sometimes reveal discriminatory practices or show that some employees are not being paid fairly. This discouragement may even take the form of an employer telling their employees that wage discussion is illegal.
Below, we look at if it is really illegal to discuss wages and what kind of protections are in place for employees who do want to discuss their compensation with others.
Disclaimer: The following is not legal advice. Be sure to consult with an employment attorney for legal advice and representation.
Is it Illegal to Discuss Wages?
So, is it illegal to discuss wages? The answer here is no.
It has been legal for employees to discuss their wages and salary since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935. The NLRA protects “the right to communicate with other employees at their workplace about their wages” for all covered employees.
Wage discussion is important, and the NLRA covers a number of employees so that they can discuss wages through written messages and in-person conversations.
Almost all employees in the private sector are covered by the NLRA, meaning that they are free to have wage discussions should they want to. But the NLRA does specifically exclude the following individuals, as laid out here:
- Federal, state, or local government employees;
- Agricultural laborers;
- Those employed in the domestic service of any person or family in a home;
- Those employed by a parent or spouse;
- Independent contractors;
- Supervisors (supervisors who have been discriminated against for refusing to violate the NLRA may be covered);
- Those employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act, such as railroads and airlines;
- Those employed by any other person who is not an employer as defined in the NLRA
For covered individuals, you are able to discuss or not discuss your wages as you see fit. Your employer cannot retaliate against you in any manner for doing so.
Further federal rules have been implemented alongside the NLRA that directly tie into wage discussions, such as a 2014 executive order that prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against any employees who talk about their wages or other compensation.
In cases where you believe you are facing discrimination, retaliation, or other workplace disruptions based off of wage discussions you have had, it can be prudent to connect with an employment attorney. They can help you report relevant violations to the National Labor Relations Board if that’s something you wish to pursue.
Can I Discuss My Salary with Other Employees?
You can discuss your salary with other employees however you like. And keep in mind that you don’t have to discuss your wages or salary with coworkers if you don’t want to.
As the NLRA lays out, should you choose to discuss your wages, these conversations can occur in many different ways including discussing how much you and your coworkers earn, organizing a union to raise your salaries, and even reaching out to the National Labor Relations Board for more information on your rights under the NLRA.
Your employer cannot institute workplace policies that prohibit wage discussion. These kinds of policies are unlawful under the NLRA and are typically referred to as pay secrecy policies.
Pay secrecy policies are often found in employee handbooks and other company guidelines. They can also be implied policies, where your manager or other supervisors only ask or urge employees not to discuss their wages.
But unless an employee is in a position where a nondisclosure agreement impacts their ability to discuss their salary in a public manner, you are able to freely discuss your salary with other employees.
If you are unsure of whether or not you are protected by the NLRA or if you believe your employer has implemented pay secrecy policies, consider consulting with an employment attorney. They will be able to go over the details of your situation with you and offer legal guidance and advice.