Keeping salaries confidential

Q: My employer has an employee handbook that says I can’t
discuss my wages and benefits with my co-workers or outside the company.
Is this legal?

A: No, this request is unlawful. There is a federal law called the
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). NLRA is the law that deals with
employees’ rights to form unions and to work together for better wages
and working conditions. As part of this process, employees have the
right to discuss all aspects of their wages and working conditions.
This also includes employees who work in non-union settings. A federal
agency called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the courts
enforce this law.

To gain more insight into this subject I consulted Attorney Valerie
Samuels, a partner in the labor and employment practice at Posternak
Blankstein & Lund LLP. Samuels explains that the NLRB has taken a
keen interest in employment policies that violate the NLRA. This
includes policies and practices at unionized as well as non-unionized
employers because companies may not place unlawful constraints on
employees’ ability to band together to improve their work situation.
She notes that some companies have a variety of policies that NLRB
considers to be unlawful. This includes policies that prohibit employees
from discussing their wages and working conditions, as well as putting
unreasonable limits on communications through social media, such as
Facebook or Twitter.

The NLRB has issued specific guidelines explaining acceptable
employment policies. The guidelines are available on their web site
(www.nlrb.gov). Employees must keep in mind that it is important not to
cross the line by disclosing business secrets such as confidential
sales, marketing, or product information, or by harassing co-workers or
managers on the basis of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or
other legally protected categories.

This area of the law is of great interest to those in the employment
law world, especially since the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other
types of social media.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.