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Can employers prevent workers from discussing their wages?

On Behalf of | Mar 29, 2024 | Union Representation |

Companies have an incentive to pay as little as they can while retaining the best workers possible. They count on manipulative tactics and the obfuscation of the truth to make it possible to pay some workers far less than others even if they perform the same work. Two employers in similar positions could receive vastly different wages and even different benefit packages due to factors outside of their control, such as their sex or race.

Unions often help employees by providing better transparency. Companies know that unions may track such discrepancies and may try to prevent workers from organizing. Workers attempting to organize often begin the process by discussing key employment considerations, like work conditions and wages. Employers sometimes take punitive action against employees involved in organizing. They may justify terminating or otherwise punishing workers by pointing to internal policies against discussing wages.

Federal law protects conversations about pay

The ability to organize with other employees is intrinsic to the rights of workers. Therefore, the federal government has rules prohibiting employers from penalizing workers for certain activities.

Those protected activities include meeting to discuss work circumstances, discussing their pay and otherwise seeking to organize for improved employment conditions. While plenty of companies include policies in their handbooks or employment contracts prohibiting conversations about wages, they cannot typically enforce those terms. The civil courts do not give company policy more weight than federal law.

Unfortunately, workers who do try to discuss their wages with one another may find themselves facing punitive actions initiated by employers. Organizations may fabricate paper-thin excuses for firing or otherwise penalizing workers who discuss their wages. They may write up a worker for issues that do not prompt disciplinary action against other workers or start taking issue with someone’s performance, even though it hadn’t changed.

Other times, companies openly affirm that a worker’s attempts to talk about wages and compensation with co-workers are the cause of punitive workplace actions. Employees may then need to look into their options to fight back against that misconduct.

Learning more about federal employment protections may benefit those concerned about their current working conditions or employer actions that may have violated employment laws. Employees who understand their rights can more easily fight back after a violation of those rights occurs.