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Keeping salaries confidential

Q: My employer has an employee handbook that says I can’t discuss my wages and benefits with my co-workers or outside the company. Is this legal?

A: No, this request is unlawful. There is a federal law called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). NLRA is the law that deals with employees’ rights to form unions and to work together for better wages and working conditions. As part of this process, employees have the right to discuss all aspects of their wages and working conditions. This also includes employees who work in non-union settings. A federal agency called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the courts enforce this law.

To gain more insight into this subject I consulted Attorney Valerie Samuels, a partner in the labor and employment practice at Posternak Blankstein & Lund LLP. Samuels explains that the NLRB has taken a keen interest in employment policies that violate the NLRA. This includes policies and practices at unionized as well as non-unionized employers because companies may not place unlawful constraints on employees’ ability to band together to improve their work situation. She notes that some companies have a variety of policies that NLRB considers to be unlawful. This includes policies that prohibit employees from discussing their wages and working conditions, as well as putting unreasonable limits on communications through social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

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The NLRB has issued specific guidelines explaining acceptable employment policies. The guidelines are available on their web site (www.nlrb.gov). Employees must keep in mind that it is important not to cross the line by disclosing business secrets such as confidential sales, marketing, or product information, or by harassing co-workers or managers on the basis of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or other legally protected categories.

This area of the law is of great interest to those in the employment law world, especially since the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other types of social media.

by Pattie Hunt Sinacole, First Beacon Group LLC

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