Human resources questions: Can I discipline employees who discuss confidential matters such as salaries and benefits in the workplace?

Sept. 21, 2012
If your employees talk among themselves about their salaries and benefits, is that a clear violation of confidential matters? Human resources experts Tim Twigg and Rebecca Crane explain what the National Labor Relations Act has to say about it.

Q:We recently had an employee disclose her salary and benefits to other employees in the office. This has caused significant problems, as the other employees are now questioning what they earn and demanding more. Can I discipline and/or fire this employee for disclosing confidential matters? We have made it a rule not to share this information, which clearly this employee violated.

A: Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have a right to organize and engage in “concerted activities” for the purpose of collective bargaining or “other mutual aid or protection.” Discussing an employee’s own salary and/or benefits is part of “concerted activity” that is protected by the act. This law applies to all employers, not just unionized workplaces. Creating a policy banning conversations about salary and benefits and retaliating against your employees for talking could violate their rights. Therefore, you should not discipline in any way or fire this employee. In addition, your employees’ discussions about their salaries should not influence any decisions you make about their employment with the practice.

The opinions expressed above are based on the writer’s comprehensive background as a human resources professional and the policies in our Bent Ericksen & Associates products having been reviewed by legal counsel. The writer is not an attorney, and the advice provided in this message should not be construed as a legal opinion. If you have legal questions after considering the advice and reading any materials referenced, it is recommended that you consult with your attorney.

Author bio
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit