Employers are often concerned about employee discussions regarding their wages and benefits. While they may not like such discussions, employers should take note that they may not prohibit, or even hint at consequences, if employees discuss their compensation amongst each other. Employers may not in any way discipline or react in a negative way towards employees if they discuss their wages, including benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Employee’s rights to have such discussions at any time are protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
The NLRA grants all employees the right to organize and engage in “concerted activity…. for the purpose of mutual aid or protection.” This includes discussions about wages, benefits, managers, facilities, safety issues, and just about anything else that two or more employees might have an interest in. As this implies, the protections provided by the NLRA are broad.
Here are a few examples of protected activity:
- Employees discussing how much they are being paid, whether via email, break room chat, or a conversation on someone’s Facebook wall;
- Individual employee complaints regarding wages or employment conditions, if they reflect general workforce discontent or are attempting to elicit the support of co-employees to correct a problem;
- Employees discussing improving working conditions with other employees;
- Circulating a petition asking for better hours;
- Participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions;
- Employees joining with co-workers to talk directly to the employer, to a government agency, or to the media about problems in the workplace.
Since the 1980’s, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB – rules on cases related to NLRA violations), has been saying very clearly that discussion of wages is a protected right. Employers advocating or enforcing a policy that is contrary to the NLRA are considered by Labor officials to be in serious breach of employee rights. It is strongly recommended that if employers have such policies in place, written or implied, they immediately suspend such policies as any discipline dished out due to such employee discussions may result in serious penalties for the employer.
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