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What You Should Know About Pay Transparency in the Workplace


The conversation about pay transparency has been buzzing recently after a couple of Google employees attempted to create online methods through which they and their co-workers could share their salaries with one another internally, in order to ensure that everyone was getting paid what they deserved. However, despite Google’s assurance that employees are free to share their salaries with one another, it responded negatively to both attempts and argued that such online sharing methods threatened confidentiality and security.

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Pay Transparency and the Law

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Employers must tread carefully when it comes to salary transparency. According to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employers are prohibited from interfering or restraining employees from taking part in “mutual aid or protection.” In other words, merely discouraging employees from sharing their salaries could be a violation of labor laws.

The NLRA is a federal law that encourages “the practice and procedure of collective bargaining” and protects “the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment.” This means that employers cannot prohibit or deter their employees from sharing their salaries, based on the policy that employers should have nothing to hide when it comes to fair, non-discriminating compensation.

It is important to note that employers may be able to get away with discouraging certain methods of salary sharing by arguing that there is a legitimate and substantial business justification such as security concerns or obstruction of employee productivity.

What Employees Can Do to Enforce Their Rights

Employees who wish to enforce their rights can report employers by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) within six months of being discouraged or forbidden from sharing salary information with coworkers. From there, the labor board can decide to conduct an investigation on the matter, which typically resolves through a settlement. If not, the case continues to a hearing where the employer could be forced to provide a fair salary and pay the employee back pay. In addition, it is against the law for employers to retaliate against employees who file legitimate complaints to the NLRB.

In spite of the NLRB’s existence, a survey conducted in 2010 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research illuminated the fact that just about half of American employers either prohibit or frown upon the disclosure of salary among employees. It therefore comes as no surprise that the NLRB receives more than 20,000 complaints every year regarding salary payment.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you know someone who is prohibited or discouraged by an employer from sharing his or her salary with co-workers? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Daniel Kalish
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