What You Can and Can’t Do When Employees Discuss Wages

First, let’s settle a myth. Can employees legally discuss their salaries with other co-workers? Yes. Should they? That’s another story.

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided that an engineering firm had unlawfully fired one of its employees for discussing salary information with co-workers. The firm was ordered to reinstate the fired employee and pay back wages and benefits. The company was also ordered to reverse its policy that prohibited salary discussions and to inform employees of the change.

The ruling was noteworthy in that it contradicted a common misconception — that employers can forbid employees from discussing their salaries.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, this is an important finding. Repercussions from these kinds of conversations can ripple throughout the entire company. The more you know about what you can and can’t do, the better you can protect yourself and your company.

Here are some guidelines to consider.

What employers can’t do

You cannot forbid employees – either verbally or in written policy – from discussing salaries or other job conditions among themselves.

Discussing salaries is considered a “protected concerted activity” by the NLRB and it’s protected regardless of whether employees are talking to each other in person or through social media.

What employers can do

Of course, discussing salaries can be problematic. Conversations can evoke feelings of jealousy and inequity among co-workers who most likely are unaware of the reasons for salary differences, including education, experience, training or negotiating skills. Suspicion, distrust and other negative emotions often result from salary discussions and seriously affect company morale.

The best way to head off those problems is to foster a positive working relationship with your employees. Consider instituting strategies like these:

  • Pay people fairly in the first place – auditing your own records and making sure your salaries are competitive in the marketplace.
  • Encourage a workplace where employees are comfortable approaching management or HR personnel with questions or observations about salaries or working conditions.
  • Help employees understand their salary ranges and job potential, and teach them how additional skills, training or certifications could possibly affect their growth within your company.
  • Provide resources and training for management so they are aware of labor rulings and know how to respond to employees’ questions and requests.
  • Put together a complaint resolution procedure for your company that allows employees to be heard.
  • Conduct internal surveys that monitor your company’s general climate, employee engagement and compensation perceptions.

If you’re like most companies, your employees are the backbone of your organization. Mutual trust and the feeling of being valued can go a long way in heading off problems before they escalate. With the guidance of your HR representatives and management, you should be able to handle whatever issue comes along.

How can you get the scoop on employment laws that apply to your business? Download our free e-book, Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?

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Stephanie

It should be common sense that salaries should not be discussed among coworkers. Some people deserve to get paid higher because they are more dedicated, work harder or have exceptional skills. Why not show up to work and earn your salary and not worry about what anyone else is doing or how much they get paid. Let’s all start acting like adults.

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Cassy cervantes

Hi I was never aware of this law and I was recently let go from a position because I mentioned a raise I had received to another employee in a casual conversation. My termination letter said I had violated the “no gossip” policy by doing so. I reached out to NLRB earlier and I believe a charge was filed, but I still have questions on the validity of thier reason for termination. Do rules vary from state to state?

Insperity Blog

Hi Cassy, Employer policies may vary from state to state in terms of “no gossip” policies. However, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a Federal Act that impacts public and private employers in different ways. While employers may have certain code of conduct policies that prohibit gossiping, the topic of discussing working conditions, which includes compensation, should not be included as an “off-limits” work gossip subject for employees.

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JC

I was recently in a meeting and was told we are not to discuss at wages with other employees or else. And this come from HR. What should and can we do about this? I did suggest fair wages it the person delivering the message laught

Insperity Blog

Hi JC, Could you please provide some additional information with regard to your question? I’m not sure I understand your last sentence. Thank you.

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JC

Well can anything be done about them saying don’t discuss your wages or else? The management that runs this place run it with fear. They get away with a lot because the employees don’t speak up cuz they don’t want to stir the pot. And the Aronic help lines thats ran by Ingerity is a joke because they help swip everthing under the rug.

Insperity Blog

Hi JC, If you’ve tried to call our customer service line as a client of Insperity, please share your contact information with us at social@insperity.com so we can follow up with you accordingly. Thank you.

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Soraya

Good day I sit with a big problem one of my colleagues are doing the same work as I but I accidentally saw that she is getting paid more then me. My qualification are more higher then hers. Our CEO is a quite reasonable person but I am not sure should I confront him and how do I approach this situation. Please advise

Insperity Blog

Hello Soraya, Have you tried reaching out to your company’s HR department for assistance? That would be a good first course of action.

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Tina

Please help me 🙂 we were 3 new hired people for the same job. At the time of signing the contract, from mistake, I was able to observe my colleague’s salary (she was sitting next to me) which was much higher than ours, although she did not have experience in doing so (for example she came from economics/hr to IT engineering environment).
After a couple of months when we have passed the “trial” and signed the contract for an indefinite period, everyone got a 10% gross increase, but my expectations were higher considering that I’m more dedicated and doing better the job than her. I thought that the increase would bring me to the same salary level at which she had started…but it wasn’t so 🙁
Also, my responsibilities are much higher and my direct supervisor knows that.
It’s a frustrating situation when you see that a person does not work as much as you work, but the pay is much better…and you can’t say anything because of confidentiality. How should I proceed? To discuss with my direct supervisor from the country? But she is not allowed to know our salaries even she knows better what we are doing..and the proposed of 10% increase was her request to old manager.
The only persons that knows our salaries is HR and the old manager.
The manager was recently changed and I don’t know if it is a good idea to discuss at one on one meeting when he will come to met us….

Insperity Blog

Hello Tina, Your best course of action would be to reach out to your company’s HR department. They should be able to provide assistance based on the specifics of your situation.

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Chelsea

I just started working in a office where there is a lot of confidential information is forbidden to be shared, even between departments… this includes salaries. I had accidentally printed off my offer letter at the wrong printer. When I got there, I was pulled aside by another team member who let me know that a different employee pulled it off the printer and announced my salary to everyone in the room. Yes, I was in the wrong for printing it on the wrong printer, but what do I do now? A representative from our finance department came to my desk to tell me that printing off my offer letter was not allowed, but I honestly just did it because I’m trying to finance a new car and I needed the proof of my new income. Would it be grounds for firing me from my new job? Or how do I mend what happened?

Insperity Blog

Hi Chelsea, Most states are employment at-will which means that the employer or employee can terminate employment at any time and for any reason not otherwise prohibited by law. In this case, termination would be rather punitive (and not the best recommendation given the nature of the infraction).

I would suggest that you discuss the situation with your immediate supervisor, explain why you were printing your offer letter and then apologize. Be sure to outline the steps you have taken to ensure that you do not repeat the same mistake. Ask your supervisor for feedback and get clarity around the company’s process related to providing information necessary for employment verifications in the future – Insperity conducts employment verifications on behalf of its clients and employees.

You can reassure your supervisor that you are committed to being your best by your actions.

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Hunter

Hey I need help! So I am 18 years old and about to graduate high school. I started 7.50 at Chick Fil A and a new working who is the same as me got started at 9. We are virtually identical in everything regardless experience. However, he got a 1.50 increase without asking for it. He told me and another fellow employee and show us his pay stubs proving he gets paid 9. Well word got around and all employees at our restaurant now know about his starting pay. Everyone else started at 7.50 besides people in their 30s and 40s. Well one of our team leaders went to our manger and told her that we all know his starting pay and that we all felt disrespected. The new guy makes more or equal to team leaders who have to shoulder responsibility for the running of the store. Well now our manager has sent home me and my fellow co worker home today (the other fellow who found out before me). Now we are waiting on a phone call to find out whether we are suspended or terminanted. Is this legal? Our management is upset we discussed pay and gaves awful excuses for why he gets paid more even though he is also 18 and has little experience like myself. Thoughts and advice?

Insperity Blog

Hi Hunter, Employers have the right to pay individuals differently for various business reasons and these differences are permitted. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits pay disparity based on sex. While there may be a particular individual being paid at a higher rate than you and others, this difference may not be based on sex, particularly if there are other males who are being paid at the same rate of pay as you are. Certain states provide greater protections under state specific equal pay laws that include permitted discussions regarding wages. It is recommended that you contact your human resources department for assistance and resolution on your specific matter.

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RX

The blogger apparently doesn’t want to tell the young man yes the company is acting illegally under federal and some state laws. Disappointing.

Insperity Blog

RX, We seek to offer the best advice possible based on the amount of information we are privy to. Without knowing all details of an employment situation, we are not at liberty to suggest the legality of actions taken.

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Tim

Hello, i recently started working for a company in Utah and have discovered that relative to my experience and peers i am being paid significantly less than i deserve. We are a whole training class of about 15 people. I have over 5 years of customer service experience and 2 years of management experience yet i am being paid less than my coworkers who only have 1 to 2 years of work experience. The difference in monetary compensation is huge, ie: dollar amount differences. Any advice on how to go about addressing this issue? The first week of work our trainer specifically noted that discussing pay amongst coworkers was prohibited. I did not sign any confidentially agreements. Thanks.

Insperity Blog

Hi Tim, Per the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees are allowed to speak with co-workers about their work environment, which includes anything related to pay. It is unlawful for a company to prohibit its employees from having these discussions. Regarding your concerns about pay inequity, consider discussing the situation with your manager. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, your company’s HR team is the next escalation point. Additionally, if your company has an anti-harassment and discrimination hotline, you may also use that as a resource.

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Jennie

Good day,
I recently had a senior technician of a two technician office in California reach out to me to advise that he received an offer from a competitor with a higher pay and a managerial position. As he was a valued employee, we matched + the competitor offer and title to supervisor with additional benefits and responsibilities. Our benefits package is exemplary. The two technicians work well together and are friendly outside of work. We were also certain if he left, his colleague would also leave shortly there after to join him at the new company. Within an hour of his acceptance, the junior technician informed of the same scenario and would like to discuss his terms to stay aboard. Our company offers the best training in the industry and therefore are highly sought after from our competitors; they do not have to invest in training and can build a business around one of our technicians. This has been a constant battle. As such, our employees can use this type of leverage against us. It is difficult to call their bluff. I know it is difficult to enforce non-competes in contracts. Do you have any suggestions of avoiding this type of scenario again? Our company is subsidizing the industry with experienced technicians. Thank you.

Insperity Blog

Hi Jennie, Here are some helpful suggestions you can use with regard to the situation you described:

In California, contract provisions generally are void if they would interfere with anyone engaging in any lawful profession, trade or business. Employers cannot require employees or applicants to agree in writing to any terms or conditions that are prohibited by law; therefore, most noncompetition agreements are unenforceable.

The best way to try to deter an employee from leaving for a better offer, or, claiming they will leave for a better offer in an attempt to negotiate a higher salary, better benefits, etc. would be to provide a Total Compensation Statement on an annual basis to remind them of the full package they are receiving as your employee beyond just financial compensation. This would also be a valuable tool to share when you sit down to respond to an employee’s request for a promotion or salary increase.

A key part of employee retention is knowing what is important to your employees; many employees are looking for a good relationship with leadership, recognition for their contributions and successes, development opportunities and a career path for growth and advancement within the organization, to name a few. If you’re unsure what your employees value most, conducting an employee engagement survey would be helpful; using the results from the survey, you could identify what is important to your employees and develop a strategy to improve the areas that are identified as currently lacking.

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Rose

I work at a church and found out my friend who just got hired, who is a male high school student, is getting paid more than me. I don’t understand because we Will have the same exact job, same title and everything. I also am in college with a high GPA and have been at the church longer with more experience. I volunteered there for 3 years and got hired 7 months ago. I really don’t understand why I’m not getting paid equally and starting to wonder if it’s because I’m a girl and my job requires a lot of heavy lifting. The thing is I keep up with the boys very well and I’m as strong if not stronger. Even then I feel like that would be illegal to pay me less because I’m a woman. How do I address this without getting me or my friend fired. Should I talk to my supervisor first or HR? And what do I do and say?

Insperity Blog

Hello Rose – To answer your questions, while employers are not obligated to share another individual’s rate of pay, they should be able to provide information on how your rate of pay was determined and what factors impacted the decision. Depending on the state you work in, you may have a right to discuss wages and ask about the pay equity practices without retaliation on yourself or your coworker(s). Certain religious organizations are exempt from certain equal employment and anti-discrimination laws for specified reasons. Questions about your pay should be directed to your supervisor and Human Resources. An appropriate question to ask could be, “Are all employees that hold my job at this church paid on the same basis and at the same rate of pay?” or “How does the church determine a rate of pay for individuals who hold my position or a comparable position?”

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karl

Hey,
Can one company contact another company’s HR for additional details about a job offer?

Insperity Blog

Hi Karl, Just to clarify, are you asking if it is legal for the company being asked to share the information?

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Dolores Denny

The 1st day I start was on oct.4 to oct22 .my 1st was 747..oo dol.That time I don’t have direct dep.I am making 14 dol./per hr. After that the rest of my checks goes direct dep.Jan.5 2017 I went to work 6:00pm and my boss name Dennis told me to talk to Paul the big boss Dennis. Said he will give me. Another work schedule so Dennis sent me home
Jan6 2017 Paul and I talked .and one of the HR employee they told me that I’m no longer working.at ABM janitorial .The reason that they realease me
I DID NOT GO WORK FOR 3 DAYS DATED JAN.2,3,4 FOR SOME REASONS MY CAR BROKE DOWN AND i WANTED TO FIXED IT RIGHT .AWAY .I called them about it. THEY SAID OK IWAS SHOCKED AND WHEN THEY SAID TO ME THAT I’M NO LONGER EMPLOYEE OF. THE ABM JANITORIAL CO.IT WAS HURT.me so much .It never happened to me being fired or release from work .Please help me to resolve these problem.I don’t thnk they treated me nice besides they threatening me saying are .you really done with your work DID you clean every thing I said to Dennis yes I’m all done cleaning.Dennis said to me What about if I see one or two hair what
I’m gonna do to you?The one word that I said to him okey I will double check..I feel that time whatever workhard I’ve done just to please them to show them that I’m good worker
Untill now they dont give the rest of my money.I knew they were cheating on hours.They promise to me that im going to get bonus for christmas but i got nothing .Icalled the HR they keep ignoring me I told them i need all my pay stub but untill now there was no reply or any call If their was a discrimenation I want it to stop it’s not good .Please I’m. Begging for help .Please help me….Thankyou so much I’m Dolores Denny my no.206 850 2593

Insperity Blog

Hi Dolores, My apologies, I’m not able to fully understand your situation based on the information provided.

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Colton

Hi,
I livery and work in Geogia. I was just fire from here say. I was told someone had said I was going around telling people what others made. I did no such thing and expressed that, however they still fired me on gossip. The only discussion of pay was my own with someone who shared theor own. Is this legal?

Insperity Blog

Hi Colton, Thank you for your question. Have you confirmed with HR that your official reason for having been fired was for discussing salary information?

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Unemployed

BTW, I did not work in Payroll or HR nor was I a manager or director. As far as I knew, their salaries were just hearsay. TY

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Unemployed

I work in California and last month outside of work hours, I mentioned to a coworker the salary of 2 employees which another coworker had mentioned to me months earlier. She went to the owner and told him and I was fired. I have never had any issues with the company and had just received a glowing work review. They claim that I broke a company rule by discussing pay. I applied for unemployment and was denied based on “the company rule”. Can I be fired legally for discussing wages on one occasion?

Insperity Blog

Hi Unemployed, The amended California Equal Pay Act, “provides that an employer cannot prohibit workers from disclosing their wages, discussing the wages of others, or inquiring about others’ wages.” This information can be further reviewed via the website for the State of California Department of Industrial Regulations, here: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/California_Equal_Pay_Act.htm

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Joan

My contract that I signed to teach Pre-K in a private preschool/childcare center in Columbus, Ohio area states that “I am not to discuss the terms of my contract or salary with other teachers or staff members. . . and failure to abide by this confidentiality agreement could be grounds for dismissal.” According to what I read on the National Labor Relations Board website, both the contract statement and the threat for dismissal are illegal, and that I DO have every legal right to discuss salaries, working conditions, safety issues, workload, etc., with other staff members if it is for the benefit of all — since it is considered Protected Concerted Activity. Could you please comment on what is legally right and wrong? On a side note, several co-workers and I have been talking about how we are very overworked and very underpaid, yet are required to have a 4-year degree, and are paid at poverty level. I intend to take this to the next staff meeting, and need to know if there might be any legal repercussions. Can I do this legally? Thank you!!

Insperity Blog

Hi Joan, Employers are not legally allowed to prevent employees from discussing wages. However, choosing to do so as an employee can create negative feelings within the workplace, so the choice to do so must be made with discretion. If you are questioning whether what you discuss in your staff meeting may affect your employment status, you may want to reach out to your HR contact beforehand and arrange to privately discuss your concerns.

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Donna Klingler

Hello.
I was given salary information by a new male co-worker (Sr. Buyer) to scan and email to him so he could buy a house. I then passed the information along to a female co-worker who is also a Sr. Buyer and was told that her job was exactly the same as the male Sr. Buyer. Last week management confronted me and asked me if I had given that information to the female employee and I told them that I did. That day they suspended both me and the female employee; the next day management called my co-worker to come back to work however I was not notified to come back. Three days later management calls me and tells me to come in at 1:00 in the afternoon the next day. I did and they fired me for giving out information that I was unauthorized go give out. Then told me to sign seperation papers stating I had resigned and if I did sign; they would pay me what they owed me as well as for the days I was suspended. Needless to say I did not sign those papers and I do not intend to ever sign them. I feel as though they have impinged my rights as a non exempt employee. Please give me your opinion of the situation. Thank you

Insperity Blog

Hi Donna, Thank you for sharing your story. Apologies, but without more specifics as to the sharing of the salary information, its source, the official communication from your management team, etc. it is near impossible to provide an accurate evaluation of your situation.

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Adrienne

Can an employee request the see a close out report from managers in order to view sales and tips from the night prior?

Insperity Blog

Hello Adrienne, Typically, companies have policies in place that outline the kinds of reports and information that may be shared from managers to direct reports. Company policy will dictate whether your request will be granted.

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Alex Otero

Is a Manager allowed to reveal the commissions for his entire team publicly in a meeting setting?

Insperity Blog

Hi Alex, Was the manager stating the team’s commissions as a group total? Who was in attendance at the meeting?

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Kelly Murphy

Can I discuss payroll of a 16 year old employee with their parent.

Insperity Blog

Hi Kelly – Since the employee is a minor, it would be permissible to discuss payroll with the parents. As a best practice, the employee should be present for the conversation as well.

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Garrett Thomas

Why whenever you want as a question on this stupid site every answer just says to talk to the HR that’s a pretty lousy answer to every question also what if your HR doesn’t know

Insperity Blog

Hi Garrett, That is a valid answer to many responses as we are unable to answer for other employers who may have specific policies in place that apply to their employees. Also, we would need more detailed information than a comment in order to provide an answer to an HR or legal related question.
Your HR contact should know the answer to an HR related question about your organization. If a particular representative is unsure, ask to talk to a manager or a representative that specializes in that area.

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Emmanuel

Hi I have recently started a new company and the employee I took on overstep her boundaries and goes to my client about her wages. Is there anything I can do policy wise to prohibit that kind of action? I know employees amongst themselves can talk to each other. But what about when they overstep their own employers and go directly to the client?

Insperity Blog

Hi Emmanuel, Does your company have any written policies regarding this topic? You may be able to find out if there is a standard way of handling these types of situations by reaching out to your manager or HR contact.

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Paul cox

Hi, Can someone please advise me …I’m self employed working for oil and gas company and recently been asked to carry out extra hours overtime. End of the week a cell leader that approves my hours questioned my hours worked and stated in ££££ how much I cost to another cell leader. I feel now that I’ll lose my overtime / job because of my financial terms being bought to light…..should they be allowed to discuss how much I earn a week , I really feel that this could lead to my contract being terminated or my overtime removed. Working for GE OIL AND GAS I don’t think this should happen should I go to HR ….can you please advise. Paul

Insperity Blog

Hi Paul, For help sorting through the various aspects of your work situation, speaking with your HR contact would indeed be a smart option.

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boomy

my wifes canadian boss just told her wages cannot be discussed with the other employees or you will be terminated…is this true…at my work everyone know each others wages and increases every year

Insperity Blog

Hi there – In the U.S., employers cannot forbid employees from discussing salaries or other job conditions among themselves. Discussing salaries is considered a “protected concerted activity” by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

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Lorelai

Hi!
I was having negotiation discussions with one of my current colleagues( who would be line manager if I take the new role) about a new role in my company and he told me he asked the HR about my current salary and they told him exactly how much I make . Then, he proceeded to tell me that I won’t receive the salary that is on the market for such a job but I will receive just 2K more on my salary, meaning 50% underpaid.
The company just hired someone on the exact same role ( because 2 people are needed for that job ( and they paid him market value salary) and now they are saying they don’t have funds to pay me an equal salary although I have been with the company for 3 years and already proved my worth by saving almost 1m so far.
I am upset the possible new line manager found out my current salary from HR- I thought that’s illegal.
What can I do?
I don’t even want to take the job which has 100% more responsibility if I am not paid market value salary.

What advice do you give me?

Insperity Blog

Hi Lorelai, Try reaching out to your HR department to discuss your concerns and your current situation. They should be able to help you sort out the implications of these occurrences.

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Manny

I work as an IT contractor and I am being told by my contract company that I am not aloud to discuss my wages with any employee. That this information is confidential between me and that company. If this in my contract is it still legal or unconstitutional since it is my freedom of speech that they would be prohibiting?

Insperity Blog

Hi Manny, Your question is regarding contract law, as opposed to simply discussing wages in the workplace. If you feel that you need further clarification on the details and limitations set forth in your employment contract, your best option would be to speak with the HR representatives at your contract company and/or consult a lawyer.

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Connor Smith

Don’t employers have a way around this by just releasing people without disclosure? At the place I work at the policy is *”Your rate of pay is a confidential matter and should never be discussed with other employees.”. When I brought up the fact that someone who is in the same position that was hired later than me (no experience vs my over a year of worth ofexperience) was making more than I was.” When asked about it, he kept asking whom. In fear of retaliation (right to work/at will state), I would not disclose whom I was inquiring about. *Store policy vs State/Federal law is main concern.

Insperity Blog

Hello Connor, Thank you for your comment. Per the article, there is no law prohibiting employees from discussing wages. If an employer chooses to terminate an employee based on another behavioral, performance, etc. issue, that would be up to the company’s HR department, in accordance with specific corporate policies and regulations.

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Some expat guy

Tia, it applies to any employer/employee in the US–private companies, small businesses, publicly traded companies, international companies operating in the US, and, indeed, departments of state and federal government. I would keep a record (email, etc.) of your boss’s assertion. If you never need it, great, but if you ever discuss salary and are let go after the company gets wind of it, this could be a key item in your back pocket.

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M. McLeod

As HR Manager, I refused to share individual salaries to our Accounting Dept. I’ve only shared it by department for GL purposes. Now they’ve asked for individual hours and which they can easily calculate the actual wages since union wages are publicized. Can I refrain from giving them this as well? Our new COO is asking for individual salaries and I refused to share as it is only shared by our CEO for salary/bonus recommendations. I would like to keep personnel information including salary as confidential as possible.

Insperity Blog

Hello M, Thank you for your comment. As an employee who has been entrusted with salary data, you should share it only on an “as-needed basis.” If you have concerns about who falls within that “as-needed” category in your organization, you should speak with your leadership for their direction and designation as to who should receive salary data before disclosing the information.

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Tia

My boss is insistent that this law does NOT apply to privately held companies. Only federal workers. Can this be explained?

Insperity Blog

Hi Tia, Thank you for taking the time to read our post and ask a question. A more detailed explanation of employee rights within the workplace is well outlined by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) here: https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/employee-rights. Have a great afternoon!

Insperity Blog

Hi Susan – That’s great, I hope that the information in our post is able to help you and your daughter be well-prepared for the current challenge she is facing. Best wishes to her and thank you for sharing your comments.

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Susan Hill

This information will help my daughter immensely as her employer is going to served her a letter giving her written letter giving her a warning for discussing wages, he has not even given her a chance to explain her side of the story as she states there was no mention of monetary amounts discussed in the conversation she had with another employee so your site will help us deal with this matter, many thanks

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Yuri Adlan

The information is very useful , very useful for me .
Thanks for posting. Spesialis Jasa Bank Garansi

Insperity Blog

You are more than welcome, Yuri. So glad you found the information helpful! Thank you for your kind words.