Jon Hyman

Employers, for the love of all that is holy: Stop banning employees from discussing their wages!

A supervisor of a subsidiary of Duke University is accused of doing just that, and now the employer is in hot water with the National Labor Relations Board.

According to the just-filed NLRB complaint, the supervisor allegedly instructed workers during a meeting “not to discuss their salaries.” When one of those employees later raised “concerns about employees’ salaries and equity in pay,” they were fired.

Here’s the law:

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act grants all non-supervisory employees, union and non-union, the right to engage in “protected concerted activity”—the right of employees between and among themselves to discuss terms and conditions of employment … including wages. As a result, it’s a per se unfair labor practice for an employer to prohibit employees from discussing wages or to retaliate against them when they do so.

Even though this has been the law for decades, a 2021 study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found nearly half of full-time employees have been prohibited or dissuaded from discussing or disclosing wages.

That study matches my own anecdotal experience. One out of every two employee handbooks that I review has a policy that says something like, “Employees are prohibited from disclosing or discussing their wages or pay. Employees who do so are subject to discipline up to and including termination.”

That policy or anything like it is 100% illegal. Wages cannot be confidential. Federal labor law grants employees an unfettered right to share this information and have these conversations with their co-workers, labor unions or other worker organizations, the media and the public, whether on the clock or off.

Employers, I don’t think you’re trying to violate the law. I just think you mistakenly assume that wages are confidential. They’re not. Now you know. Please act accordingly.