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Based on questions like this, what is a good recourse to take if a company handbook does disallow discussing wages? If you start a new job and the company handbook or policy says that you are not to discuss your wages with co-workers, what is the best way to handle that? (US Labor laws explicitly say that is something that can be done.)

From this AskAManager question:

The National Labor Relations Act says that employers cannot prevent employees from discussing wages and working conditions among themselves. The idea is that employees need to be free to organize, and preventing them from discussing these topics would prevent them from organizing.

Is it better to just ignore the handbook? To challenge it? To follow it as long as conditions are ok and you're not considering a union anyway? To point out that the policy goes against labor law?

And if it were to be challenged, what is the best way to approach that? I'm pretty sure that doing it as a new hire is not the best time or place.

  • What is the question? Are you looking to challenge the handbook? Are you looking to discuss wages? This may me better on law.se – paparazzo Apr 8 '16 at 16:05
  • Company handbooks are guidelines as best as I know. They are not legal documents, unless you signed something saying that you will accept it as a legal document. Even at that time state and federal laws will come into action and probably prove the company wrong. – MelBurslan Apr 8 '16 at 16:06
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    This currently reads more like a "what should I do" than a "how should I go about doing X". – BSMP Apr 8 '16 at 16:09
  • Is there actually a company that has this in the handbook? It souds too theoretical. "What if this happens..." (even though this thing is unlikely to be even true). – Brandin Apr 8 '16 at 19:39
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    @Brandin I linked to a question, but I've also had people say they've run across it, and see lots of other people who refer to the prohibition. I had a friend (years ago) who worked for Ross Porot's company, and she said that prohibition was very explicit. So it is second hand, at best. – thursdaysgeek Apr 8 '16 at 20:42
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The lovely thing about employee "guidelines" is that while not officially enforceable, disobedience is punished through scrutiny on other matters. So, while discussing salaries may not be officially punished, your comings and goings, the quality of your work will be put under a microscope and they will find other reasons.

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    And in the US they don't even need a reason in many states. – HLGEM Apr 8 '16 at 18:54
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Its very interesting that the NLRA states this specifically. Over my career, I've never discussed wages "in the workplace" outside of the manager/employee scope, which has led of some very interesting results. For example, I had one consultant working for me whose company was being paid over $100 an hour for his services. After I left the position, I found out his actual paid hourly rate from his company was less than $30/hour. I bet he wished he discussed it!

On to the answer. If you have a legitimate concern, and you feel that unionization is a potential avenue to address the concern, invoking the NLRA is an option. Otherwise, I wouldn't discuss wages in the workplace. While it may benefit you to know if you're being fairly compensated, the discussion almost always leads to animosity in the workplace. Instead, I would have the discussion outside of the office.

A company can regulate what it feels is professional conduct in the workplace (dress-codes, not racial epithets, etc). However, you can talk about whatever you want outside of the workplace.

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    A markup of roughly 3 times the hourly wage for a consultant is ordinary and expected. It goes to pay for employee benefits, administrative overhead, building expenses (rent, electricity, etc.), and profit. He had no negotiating power by knowing that figure. – HLGEM Apr 8 '16 at 18:56
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Legally you can talk about salary. As a practical point is is usually not in your best interests to do so if the company discourages it.

If you want to try to change the policy to be more transparent, you will need to build a business case for why the change is needed. It is highly unlikely that you could do this as a new employee unless you are the CEO or Head of HR. If you feel strongly about this and want to do so after you have some credibility in the the organization, then you need to develop not only a business case, but you need to develop political capital in the organization and work to get allies so that when you make the presentation, you know that you have supporters.

Be aware though that in a company where salaries are not currently transparent, it is a very hard sell because there is close to a 100% chance that they are drastically underpaying some people and possibly people of a particular category such as women or minorities who could win a class action suit if this information were to come to light.

If this issue is so important to you, I would suggest that you reduce your own employability by only looking at places where salary can be openly discussed. Government positions tend to have published salaries (of course they are often lower than what a person can negotiate in private industry). The chances of driving change in this area are fairly low, so go where the policy is already in effect.

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    I'm not sure I was asking about making the salaries themselves more transparent. My company has salary bands and there can still be wide variation within the band. I don't have a problem with that, nor with not making salaries of everyone public. But if I wanted, I could still discuss my salary with a co-worker (and have in past jobs). The question was more about when a company explicitly bans something they aren't allowed to ban, and how or whether that should be communicated to them. – thursdaysgeek Apr 11 '16 at 15:32

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