A firmly held belief among Americans is that discussing wages and benefits is not only taboo, but is also grounds for termination. Some employees might view the matter as a game of poker: you don’t tip your hand, but you can’t see anyone else’s either. While your hand seems pretty good—you might have gotten a raise on your last evaluation—you have no idea how well your coworkers are doing.
Wages are no poker game though, at least not with your co-workers. Generally, the only party playing against you is your employer, who is betting that you won’t share your wage information.
Admittedly, employers might have legitimate fears; knowledge of who has the best deal in the office instills resentment, not encouragement. Moreover, information on medical benefits could spread around the office, potentially in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) holds that these confidentiality rules usually aren’t flush with federal law.
Confidentiality agreements could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because they could be cloaking the fact that employers are not paying employees fairly. So, in the poker scenario, the NLRB is worried that employers might be changing the rules or unfairly stacking the deck—and no one likes a cheat.
The NLRA is violated in union and non-union situations alike when employees are stripped of the ability to discuss the fairness of their wages. If an employer were, for example, paying men and women differently, there would be no way to tell if no one tipped his or her hand. You can see how this clandestine behavior might lead to big payouts for certain people, nand even bigger payouts to the ‘house.’
It’s important to recognize that the NLRA doesn’t give you carte blanche to boast about how great a hand you’ve been dealt. The point is to make sure that employees are given the opportunity to make sure they are being paid fairly, since the house always wins when no one is watching.
If you’re an employer concerned that a wage confidentiality rule might be a gamble, or if you’re an employee who has always thought raises just weren’t in the cards, you should contact an employment attorney to be sure you’ve been dealt a fair hand.
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