How do employers get away with paying a protected class of employee less than other workers, despite laws that make it illegal? By allowing each staff member to negotiate his or her own salary, and then discouraging employees from sharing salary information. This discouragement interferes with your ability to prove discrimination. Fortunately, you have rights.
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One form of employment discrimination is paying members of one group (based on sex, race, disability status, age, or other protected status) less than members of another group. This sort of discrimination used to be extremely common and even explicit, particularly when it came to sex-based discrimination.
Women were routinely overtly paid less than men in many fields, often because of the assumption that men had families to support while female workers did not. With the introduction of anti-discrimination laws, many of these overt policies faded away, but in many workplaces, they were replaced by covert methods of the same sort of discrimination, for example, discouraging workers from sharing salary information.
Right to Share Salary Information Under the NLRA
Interestingly, it is not one of the traditional anti-discrimination statutes that gives employees the right to discuss salary information with their fellow employees. Instead it is Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. This federal law gives employees the right to discuss the terms of their employment, including salary and benefits. The law says it is an “unfair labor practice” for an employer to enact a policy that would prohibit discussion of compensation packages between co-workers.
This law applies to almost all private employers. However, it does not cover certain government workers or employees of religious schools.
Limit to Rights Under the NLRA
Your right to discuss your compensation package under the NLRA is not absolute. For example, your employer may prohibit you from discussing these matters when you are supposed to be working. That being said, if the employer allows you to discuss other matters with your co-workers while you are working, like what happened on this week’s episode of your favorite TV show, then they may not be able to limit your ability to also discuss compensation packages under the same circumstances.
Even if you are legally barred from discussing your compensation package at work, your employer cannot prevent you from doing so on your own time. Of course, you must have legally obtained any salary information to be able to discuss it. If you inappropriately access other worker’s personnel records to obtain salary information, you cannot legally discuss that information.
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