Can You Get Fired for Discussing Your Pay? No Way

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You cannot be fired for discussing your salary with a co-worker.

A young female friend recently asked for a raise and got it. (But don’t celebrate yet.) Later, when discussing it with co-workers after hours, she learned that she’d actually gotten half the raise a male colleague at the same level received, despite glowing feedback from her manager. She was hesitant to go back to her boss to question the raise, as the company has a policy against sharing salary information … and clearly she’d be throwing someone under the bus for sharing. So instead of asserting herself or getting a friend in trouble, she’s looking for a new job.

Obviously, neither the underpaid employee nor the employer win when secrecy surrounds salaries.

And despite what some companies tell employees, discussing your wages is a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). An employer policy that prohibits salary discussions is unlawful. This 1935 law protects private sector employees’ rights to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aide or protection,” reports classaction.org. If employees are discussing wages to determine pay inequities between them, such discussion is likely protected,” asserts shrm.org.

Be aware of a few caveats:

  • Employers don’t have to allow these discussions to happen during work hours
  • Special restrictions apply to HR workers who have access to protected information
  • The wage information can’t be obtained by accessing private company documents
  • And, running around the office bragging about your raise isn’t considered “mutual aide”

Pay transparency continues to gain momentum … because transparency keeps salary negotiations from feeling like a poker game, suggests payscale.com. “If you walk out of a pay negotiation still wondering if you’re being compensated fairly, that’s not a win for anyone involved—not you and not your employer.”

In addition to making salary negotiations hard, pay secrecy (from managers discouraging the discussion to formal policies prohibiting it) also perpetuates discriminatory salaries. “If there are fewer secrets surrounding salaries, it becomes much harder for any pay inequities to arise,” writes PayScale.

Former President Barak Obama added weight to salary transparency in 2014 by issuing an executive order prohibiting Federal contractors, subcontractors and federally assisted construction contractors from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing his or her compensation to another employee or applicant, states a DOL Women’s Bureau document.

Moreover, a proposed U.S. Labor law, The Paycheck Fairness Act, if enacted, would add procedural protections, helping to address the gender pay gap in the U.S., according to Wikipedia.org.

Talking about salaries with your co-workers who are doing similar work, helps maintain paycheck fairness … and it is perfectly legal. Huge pay inequity still exists in the U.S. You can help close these wage gaps by asking and sharing. Transparency makes you more confident that you’re being treated fairly.

Related article: Successful Negotiating Tactics for Women

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