It goes without saying that your boss doesn’t want you to talk about your pay with your co-workers. Why does it go without saying? Because…they’ve probably said it. The majority of American workers from fast food workers to administrative assistants to dental hygienists have been advised by their superiors/employers not to discuss their pay with their co-workers. It’s so commonplace that when employers make the request most workers don’t bat an eyelash or question the validity of their employer’s right to make such a demand.
If you consider this request in terms of employment law, any time an employer requests or demands that you keep your pay rate or salary a secret from your co-workers they are breaking the law.
According to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers are provided the right to exhibit “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” as well as to “organize to negotiate with [employers regarding their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” In six states, the law goes further and actually states that workers retain the right to discuss their payment rate.
Employers insisting that you not discuss your pay rate with co-workers are in violation of the law, regardless of whether the request/demand/threat was made verbally or in writing and regardless of what the consequences are of ignoring the often unspoken rule. Sometimes it results in firing, but sometimes consequences are more subtle, i.e. a cold shoulder from supervisors/management.
Gag rules are currently thriving in the American workplace. According to a recent study by the Women’s Policy Research, approximately 50% of the American workforce (across all industries) is not to discuss their pay with their co-workers (either explicitly prohibited or strongly discouraged). The percentage is higher in the private sector (closer to 61%). Gag rules violate fundamental labor rights and create workplace environments that support discriminatory pay structures. Reforms are necessary.
President Obama did recently sign two executive actions that address transparency and accountability in the workplace. These will assist those who work for federally contracted employers, but others are currently on their own. Another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would address the situation for the rest of America’s workers, but it has not yet been passed.
If you have questions regarding the gag rule and wrongful termination, please contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.