When employees discuss pay

When employees discuss pay

Managers often discourage discussions of pay, for example, the size bonuses.  It has even been suggested that discussing pay against the wishes of a manager or organization could put an employee at risk of disciplinary measures, perhaps even firing.  This generated a lot of discussion in SHRM forums.

Katherine Brennan (2018) explored this issue in a recent article.  She points out that any such restrictions would likely fall under the National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935 to protect workers’ rights, lay down rules for acceptable terms and conditions, and create the National Labor Relations Board.  In general, with few exceptions, employees are allowed to discuss anything regarding terms and conditions of employment, which would include pay, benefits, safety, performance standards, etc.  Rights apply to both union and non-union private sector employees.  Exceptions are carved out for public sector employees, supervisors, and some industries. 

If someone were fired for discussing a pay increase with a colleague, for example, the employer may be required to hire them back and/or provide back pay.  These considerations also apply to social media.  A company many decide to write a policy restricting such sharing, but, given that it would likely be in conflict with existing law, it probably would not be enforceable. 

The prudent course may be to fix any inequities within your rewards systems and assume that at least some of your employees will be talking to each other.  A fair system will be easier to defend than one that appears grossly unjust to a reasonable person.  Consider the recent dust up over reshooting a movie where a female co-star earned an $80 per day stipend while the male star earned an additional $1.5M (Mays, 2018).  While undoubtedly an extreme example, the pay gap by gender in the US is still around 80%.  When controlling for industry, experience, and other legitimate factors, we still fall below parity, with women earning about 94% of what men earn for comparable work.  Although the Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses of congress in 1972, it was ratified by only 35 of the required 38 states for passage.   


Brennan, K.  (27 Feb 2018).  Ask an Expert: Can We Fire an Employee for Sharing His Pay Increase with Co-Workers?  https://www.shrm.org.

Mays, Jeffery C.  (13 Jan 2018).  Mark Wahlberg and Agency Will Donate $2 Million to Time’s Up After Outcry Over Pay.  https://www.nytimes.com.

Gender pay gap in the United States (2018).  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org.