Could you get fired for adding your salary to the list?
That was a question posed by a reader.
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, you’re saying I’m 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 “just-cause” law for parking lot workers that makes it illegal to fire someone without a valid reason.