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If it's in my contract that I cannot discuss pay-rates with co-workers, can I be fired for doing so? I thought I was protected by workman's-rights under this situation.

Note: I'm not in danger of being fired, just curious how that situation would go down.

Edit: I'm more curious if it being in the contract in the first place is allowed. Sort of how you can't sign into a contract that violates other working rights; like safety-conditions, pay, and hours.

closed as off-topic by user8365, Telastyn, gnat, Lilienthal, Thalantas Feb 1 '17 at 10:30

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    I don't believe you can legally be fired for that particular reason in the US (note: not a lawyer, check with one if you need to). However, as noted by Philip Kendall in an answer below, your employers can make up another reason and fire you for that instead if you choose to do so (discuss pay) against their wishes. – R_Kapp Jan 31 '17 at 20:12
  • @R_Kapp breach of contract is terms for dismissal. – Retired Codger Jan 31 '17 at 20:58
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    @RichardU: As far as I am aware, putting that in the contract is illegal in the US (though some employers, whether through ignorance or arrogance, do so anyways). Again, though, I'm not a lawyer - perhaps it's just a few states where that's the case. – R_Kapp Jan 31 '17 at 21:00
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    @RichardU: Yes, but you cannot sign away your rights. That is an unenforceable aspect of the contract under US labor law. – Jacobm001 Jan 31 '17 at 21:04
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    Here is a source why you should discuss your pay with coworkers: youtube.com/watch?v=7xH7eGFuSYI This doesn't relate to this question directly but I thought this would be interesting! – Niqql Feb 1 '17 at 8:48
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You have the rights in all US states to discuss pay with co-workers. They may find some other reason to fire you, but they cannot legally keep you from discussing your pay, even if they put it in a contract, even if you signed the contract.

There are some limitations to that, and this Q&A blog explains some of it.

This is part of federal law, and the reason is that you may need to discuss pay if you were going to consider creating or joining a union. The limitations are based on whether you are eligible to join a union (so management could be barred from discussing pay, you can be barred from discussing pay with non-co-workers, with whom you would not unionize).

A separate question (and answer) would be how to deal with something like that in your contract. That question has been asked (and closed): How to respond if a company disallows discussion of wages?

  • 1
    In case anyone is interested, the specific federal law is also known as the Fair Labor Standards act. The most important parts of discussing your wages is that it be done with coworkers and on your own time, which falls under the collective bargaining clauses. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Labor_Standards_Act – silencedmessage Feb 2 '17 at 2:53
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Disclaimer: I AM NOT A LAWYER

You cannot be officially fired for discussing your rate of pay in the US labor market. See US code sections 157 and 158.

It is not particularly uncommon for employers to put it in their employment contract anyway. Contracts are not allowed to include enforcement of illegal behavior. Such a clause would not be enforceable, and if you could prove this is was your reason for being fired in court, you would likely be award damages.

That being said, there's nothing stopping them from making up any other reason that is convenient to fire you. You'll really need to consider whether this is a windmill you want to tilt.

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Yes you can. I've been places where this was in the employee manual as a reason for termination.

As an aside, I don't want to know what others are earning. Knowing their job title would give a range for a particular position. Either I would be angry ("he/she is making more than me and they can't code their way out of a paper bag") or very happy ("I make more than you"). Nothing good would come of it.

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    While it is commonly put in labor contracts, it is not a legal entry. See my and thursdaysgeek's answers for sources. – Jacobm001 Jan 31 '17 at 21:18
  • jacob - agreed. The last place I worked had as part of the employee handbook. My state is an 'at-will' state so they could. People could try to sue but they (probably) 'eliminated' your position and gave severance. – JazzmanJim Jan 31 '17 at 21:35
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    @bednarjm - it doesn't matter if the state is at-will or not. However you are right that they'd just eliminate you for some other reason. Illegal doesn't stop it from happening. – thursdaysgeek Jan 31 '17 at 21:53
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    You might be interested in listening to this episode of Planet Money. In it they talk about some of the consequences of having public salaries. When I was in the military pay is largely based on rank and time in service. I never thought knowing people's pay was detrimental. Overall I think transparency is a good thing, and wish more places had public salaries. I do agree however that if it isn't there from the start there will invariably be some drama when pay is revealed. – Erik Feb 1 '17 at 0:18
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    Not allowing workers discussing their salary is a great way to keep them low, they won't find out if someone else have managed to negotiate a better deal. It's in the workers' best interest in discussing so they know what is reasonable to request; it's in the companies' best interest to disallow it so they can claim that you earn an average salary. Why you, and most people I have worked with, seem to think it's a bad idea to discuss it is entirely beyond my understanding. Sure, you might get envious or get schadenfreude from the info, but it also help you back up your negotiation requests. – Mrkvička Feb 1 '17 at 10:02

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