Last fall, I became a barista in a small, “socially responsible” coffee company. A few months later, I got a temporary paralegal position at one of the world’s biggest multinational, corporate law firms.
The two companies had little in common, but both told me one thing: Don't talk to your coworkers about your pay.
In both workplaces, my bosses were breaking the law.When the Boss Says, 'Don't Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Get Paid' - The Atlantic
Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers have the right to engage “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” and “organize a union to negotiate with [their] employer concerning [their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” In six states, including my home state of Illinois, the law even more explicitly protects the rights of workers to discuss their pay.
This is true whether the employers make their threats verbally or on paper and whether the consequences are firing or merely some sort of cold shoulder from management. My managers at the coffee shop seemed to understand that they weren't allowed to fire me solely for talking about pay, but they may not have known that it is also illegal to discourage employees from discussing their pay with each other. As NYU law professor Cynthia Estlund explained to NPR, the law "means that you and your co-workers get to talk together about things that matter to you at work." Even "a nudge from the boss saying 'we don't do that around here' ... is also unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act," Estlund added