Question: Recently some of my employees were given a pay raise. It was not an across-the-board increase. One of my employees, who tends to be a troublemaker anyway, started discussing his wage increase with other staff members and causing them to be dissatisfied with their raises. We have a policy prohibiting employees from discussing their pay with each other. Can we fire this troublemaker for violating our policy?
Answer: Sorry, but a “go-ahead” to terminate this employee could get your business into serious trouble.
Some employers feel this is one of the greatest employee-induced irritations there is to deal with and they yearn to exile the employee. But under labor laws, and court decisions based on these laws and public policy, it is an unfair labor practice to discipline or dismiss an employee for discussing wage levels and the increases with other employees.
The bottom line is, your employees have the protected right to join together in discussions and activities in an effort to promote their mutual welfare. And you, the employer, must not interfere with or threaten employees for using this right.
What Can an Employer Do?
You have the right to expect efficient production from employees. If staff members are discussing any topic (even last night’s football game) and disrupting their own jobs or the work of other employees, this is interfering with productivity. Then, the employer can prohibit such conversation during work time. But employees have the right to talk about any work-related condition during breaks and on their own time.
Well, you might ask: Can we have a statement in our handbook like this one? “Your wages are a private matter. If you have a question about your pay, discuss it with your supervisor.”
It seems harmless enough. But it can be dangerous, too. Because you can’t legally enforce the intent to keep the topic of wages private without violating the employees’ rights. By putting language like this in your handbook you’re only encouraging employees to talk about their wages.
Warning: Check your employee handbook for any statement which could be interpreted as a “pay gag order,” and could cause your business serious problems. You should remove this language completely. Consult with legal counsel if you are tempted to leave this type of statement in your employee handbook.