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Discipline for Inquiring about Coworkers Salaries

Can my employer discipline me for asking myco-workers how much they get paid?


No.  The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) -a law which governs unions and employees working together to improve their work conditions- allows employees to engage in concerted activity for their mutual aid or protection. Concerted activity may include discussing and comparing pay information between co-workers. Worth noting, the NLRA may protect employees who are not unionized.

 In addition, there have been efforts in Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Senate Bill 3220 would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to make it easier for employees to fight sex discrimination in the payment of wages by requiring employers to demonstrate that any differences in salary between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related.  One provision of the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act would expressly prohibit retaliation against an employee who shares salary information with their peers. Unfortunately, on June 5, 2012 , the Paycheck Fairness Act failed a Senate vote. Nonetheless, its proponents have vowed to fight for the bill until it becomes the law.

 Asking a person how much he or she earns is usually considered rude. Moreover, some employers discourage its employees from discussing their salaries or other forms of compensation by indicating that compensation data is confidential.  Nonetheless, there are practical and valid reasons why an employee would ask co-workers how much they are paid other than financial prying.   For instance, it is very difficult for a woman to determine if she is being discriminated against in terms of her compensation on the basis of her gender unless she can ask a similarly situated male co-worker how much he is being paid.  Because there is ample evidence of gender discrimination in compensation (for example, a recent study showed that female physicians make on average $12,000 a year less than male doctors), it makes sense that the law permits employees to research how much their peers make.

If you need assistance with any employment law issue, feel free to contact us.