Can you fire an employee for discussing salary with coworkers?

In some cases, yes.

In fact, most “at will” employed Americans don’t realize this but they can be fired at any time, for any reason, as long as certain discrimination and employment laws are not being broken in the process. You can get fired for leaving a work chat group, for playing Pokémon Go at work, for sleeping on the job or no reason at all. So, what about discussing salary at work – are there any laws protecting employees? For instance, can a company impose rules banning employees from sharing wage and salary information? What if you discuss salary with coworkers – is that reason enough to fire an employee?

Surprisingly, the answer is a big NO.

Discussing Salary with Coworkers

Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers have the right to talk about wages. It protects private sector employees’ right to engage in “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” and “organize a union to negotiate with [their] employer concerning [their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” In several states, the law explicitly protects the rights of workers to discuss their wages.

The NLRA protects union and non-union workers, although, there are certain limitations. Those specifically excluded are:

  • Agricultural laborers
  • Airline employees
  • Federal, state, or government workers
  • Independent contractors

To those covered under the NLRA, the law provides protection to discuss wages with co-workers even if your employer specifically asks you not to. This means individuals can sue companies that are trying to improve illegal restrictions.

What can employers do

Discussing salary at work can be quite problematic. Conversations on such topics can lead to feelings of unfairness among co-workers who are most likely unaware of the reasons for salary differences. It can seriously affect employee morale and create a toxic working relationship among co-workers.

You may employ the following strategies to foster a positive relationship:

  • Pay people fairly and make sure the salaries are competitive in the marketplace.
  • Encourage a friendly workplace where employees are comfortable broaching sensitive subjects such as pay with management and human resources.
  • Provide training and development opportunities so employees can learn additional skills which could possibly affect their growth at work.
  • Provide a complaint resolution procedure which allows employees to be heard.
  • Conduct internal surveys from time to time to monitor the company’s working conditions, employee morale, and engagement and compensation expectations.

Your employees are the backbone of the company. You can only progress if there is mutual trust between you too. With the guidance of HR experts and management, you should be able to handle sensitive topics such as talking pay at work.

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