You suspect that the pay scale at your company is less than equitable. The only way to find out for sure is to discuss the matter with coworkers. The problem is, upper management doesn’t want people discussing salaries.

So the question is, can you be fired for talking about pay with other employees?

Terminated for Talking About Pay

Lynda Teare, a training coordinator at an engineering firm, experienced this very scenario. Teare was terminated for allegedly “harassing” other employees by asking them about their salaries.

Teare filed for unemployment. But when representatives from her former employer had to speak with the state unemployment office, they gave a slightly different version of events. They said that Teare was fired for discussing salary information, which was a “pet peeve” of the company.

A Violation of Federal Law

Teare filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

At the trial, an administrative law judge ruled that Teare’s employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which states that employers cannot lawfully prohibit employees from discussing matters such as their pay raises, rates of pay, and perceived inequities. The company was ordered to reinstate Teare, and to pay $107,000 in back pay and lost benefits.

Teare declined to take her job back.

(The case discussed here is Jones & Carter, Inc., and Lynda A. Teare.)

What the NLRA Covers

While many people may assume that the NLRA only applies to union employees, it’s important to note that the act also offers certain protections to non-union employees. In fact, Teare was a non-union employee.

The NLRA is the federal labor law that allows private-sector employees to unionize, engage in collective bargaining, or take collective actions, such as striking.

It also protects the rights of non-union employees to engage in certain “protected activity” that could eventually lead to union formation, such as discussing the terms and conditions of employment. That means that it’s generally illegal for employers to fire workers for discussing compensation, unless the employer can prove a legitimate business purpose for not allowing those conversations.

Employees in the railroad or airline industries are not covered by the NLRA.

Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation

Of course, as with any federal regulation, the NLRA can be complicated. If you feel that your rights may have been violated under the NLRA, it’s best to speak to a lawyer with experience handling these kinds of cases.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.