A Texas engineering firm landed itself in hot water with the National Labor Relations Board after firing an employee for discussing salaries with her co-workers.
The Administrative Law Judge’s decision, which the NLRB affirmed, ruled that the employer’s policy prohibiting employees from discussing wages with their co-workers violated employees’ rights to discuss their working conditions under the National Labor Relations Act. It’s crucial to remember that this provision of the NLRA applies to non-unionized workplaces, a fact that is often overlooked because the NLRA deals so extensively with labor unions.
The company wound up paying the employee over $100,000 in back pay, 401(k) contributions, medical expenses, and interest.
The decision noted that:
the [National Labor Relations] Board has long held that an employer cannot lawfully prohibit employees from discussing matters such as their pay raises, rates of pay, and perceived inequities.
The ruling also confirmed that, even without enforcing it, simply having such a policy could violate the NLRA if it reasonably tends to chill employees’ NLRA-protected rights. Where, as was the case here, employers carry out the policy and fire someone, they most certainly violate the NLRA and expose themselves to a claim before the NLRB.
With the NLRB’s renewed efforts to shape employment law beyond the agency’s historical scope, eliminating policies like this one is an easy check-off any employer can make to stay out of trouble.