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Q&A: Some employees were comparing their paychecks, and it was causing a great deal of tension and complaining….

Some employees were comparing their paychecks, and it was causing a great deal of tension and complaining. We therefore put a statement in the employee handbook prohibiting the practice. But now one employee tells us she won’t sign the handbook because of our request to keep pay information confidential. How should we proceed?

Answer from Russell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP:

Discussing wages or salary is considered protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), so you should not take any action – in policy or in practice – to prohibit employees from discussing their pay, nor should you discipline employees for doing so.

More specifically, Section 7 of the NLRA protects the rights of employees to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions or to fix job-related problems. Although it may not seem like they are trying to improve things by complaining, their discussions are very much a protected right. The National Labor Relations Board (which enforced the NLRA) has been ruling in favor of employees on this this matter since the 80s.

I therefore recommend that you remove the language from your handbook about wage information being confidential. Your best defense against tension and complaining about wages is to ensure that pay rates are fair and that any differences in wages between employees in similar jobs have legitimate justification.

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Russell has over 13 years of union and non-union human resources experience, during 10 of which he has held regional and director level HR roles in the healthcare, hospitality, property management, and engineering industries. He holds a BA from Indiana University and is an HR Specialist honor graduate from the US Army’s Adjutant General School. Russell has been a member of SHRM since 2004 and has worked as a pro bono HR Consultant, supporting small non-profit organizations.

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