Can My Employer Prevent Me From Discussing My Salary With Coworkers?

Many New York workers struggle to make ends meet working jobs with limited opportunities for raises or advancement. In many cases employees may be the victims of overtime and wage hour violations. To help combat such employer abuses, federal and state laws protect the ability of workers to seek better pay and working conditions through collective action.

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Court, NLRB Rules Forced Confidentiality Agreement Illegal

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits any employer from interfering with their employees' “right to self-organization,” including their freedom to “engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” This does not just refer to formal activities like forming a union. Among other things, Section 7 also protects your right to have informal discussions with your co-workers regarding compensation without fear of retaliation.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York recently affirmed this important principle in a dispute between the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a Long Island-based employer. The NLRB took administrative action after the employer fired an employee who refused to sign a “confidentiality agreement” restricting his ability to discuss pay-related issues with his co-workers. The NLRB said this violated Section 7, and the Second Circuit agreed.

The employee in this case was hired in 2014. At that time, the employer required him to sign a “confidentiality statement” that “strictly prohibited” the disclosure of “non-public information intended for internal purposes,” including “administrative information such as salaries” or anything relating to employee contracts. The statement said the employer could discipline or terminate any employee who violated its terms.

Several months after beginning his employment, there was a news report regarding financial mismanagement by the employer. More precisely, the employer's CEO “misappropriated” public funds intended to provide cost-of-living raises to its employees. The employee here said several colleagues complained to him that they were upset, as they had not received raises for several years. The employee himself also said he was laughed at when he asked about a raise.

Some time later, the employer once again asked all of its employees to sign a confidentiality statement banning them from talking about pay among themselves. The employee signed the statement “under duress” and noted his objections on the statement. In response, a supervisor told the employee “you just terminated yourself.”

The NLRB ultimately held, and the Second Circuit, this firing was illegal. As the Second Circuit explained, it is a violation of Section 7 when “an employee terminates an employee for refusing to agree to an unlawful confidentiality agreement.” It is not necessary to prove that multiple employees were engaged in concerted action. Indeed, the Second Circuit held that an employer “may not require even one individual employee to abide by unlawful restrictions as a condition of employment.”

Is Your Employer Violating Your Legal Rights?

The Second Circuit's ruling is good news not only for employees who may have been unfairly denied raises like in the case above, but also for potential victims of discrimination based on race, gender, or national origin. After all, if employees are not free to seek out information about their co-workers' salaries, they may not discover potentially discriminatory conduct.

If your employer is pressuring you into doing anything that may violate your rights under the law, it is important to speak with a qualified New York employment attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island if you need help right away.


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