Can you get fired for shar­ing your salary pub­licly?

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Job Market - By Ju­liana Feli­ciano Reyes

In an ef­fort to in­crease trans­parency in the art world, more than 2,500 mu­seum work­ers across the globe have anony­mously shared their salaries on a spread­sheet.

Could you get fired for adding your salary to the list?

The short an­swer is: Yes, you could, but it would be il­le­gal.

We called two la­bor lawyers, one who rep­re­sents unions and work­ers — Jonathan Wal­ters of Markowitz and Rich­mond — and an­other who rep­re­sents em­ploy­ers — Rick Grimaldi of Fisher Phillips — to get their take.

Un­der a fed­eral law called the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Act (NLRA), pri­vate-sec­tor em­ploy­ees are al­lowed to talk about their salaries and other aspects of their ex­pe­ri­ence at work. The law clas­si­fies that as a “pro­tected con­certed ac­tiv­ity,” mean­ing em­ploy­ers can’t re­tal­i­ate against their work­ers for try­ing to im­prove their work­ing con­di­tions. (How to de­fine “con­certed?” “You and I talk, it’s con­certed,” Grimaldi said.)

Con­tribut­ing to a spread­sheet such as the one cre­ated for mu­seum work­ers is ab­so­lutely pro­tected ac­tiv­ity, Wal­ters said. You do not have to be part of a union or try­ing to form a union in or­der to be cov­ered un­der the NLRA.

What if you’re just an in­di­vid­ual post­ing on Twit­ter or Face­book about your salary? That’s pro­tected, too, the at­tor­neys said, be­cause it’s con­sid­ered com­mu­ni­ca­tion with oth­ers.

Grimaldi said he re­minds his clients, who are em­ploy­ers, that they cannot pro­hibit em­ploy­ees

from dis­cussing their salaries — “a big no-no,” he said.

Com­pa­nies can, how­ever, re­quire their em­ploy­ees to keep “pro­pri­etary in­for­ma­tion” pri­vate, such as cus­tomer pric­ing or any­thing else that could be con­sid­ered a trade se­cret.

There are other ac­tiv­i­ties that are not pro­tected: Em­ploy­ees can’t, for ex­am­ple, de­fame their em­ploy­ers or threaten them.

One catch: The NLRA ap­plies to em­ploy­ees, not in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors. So, if you’re an Uber driver or a videog­ra­pher work­ing on a con­tract, shar­ing your salary pub­licly is a riskier move, Wal­ters said. (Though, as the on-de­mand gig econ­omy has grown, the def­i­ni­tion of “in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor” is be­ing de­bated in courts and gov­ern­ments across the coun­try.) The NLRA also doesn’t cover pub­lic-sec­tor em­ploy­ees, though many are pro­tected through a union col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment. So, are you safe?

If you’re not part of a union and pro­tected by a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, you can still get fired for pretty much any­thing. It’s called “at-will” em­ploy­ment.

So, even if your em­ployer can’t fire you be­cause you shared your salary with oth­ers, the com­pany could say it was be­cause you’ve been com­ing to work late or miss­ing dead­lines. (It’s hard to prove these things, and it can in­volve a drawn-out le­gal process to try and fight a fir­ing.)

Last sum­mer, for ex­am­ple, a group of park­ing-lot at­ten­dants said they got fired af­ter try­ing to form a union — which is pro­tected con­certed ac­tiv­ity. They got their jobs back a few months later. Af­ter that, the union they’re work­ing with lob­bied City Coun­cil to pass a first-of-its-kind “just­cause” law for park­ing lot work­ers that makes it il­le­gal to fire some­one with­out a valid rea­son.

Dreamstime/TNS

It is il­le­gal to be fired for shar­ing your salary pub­licly.

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