ARE YOUR LIPS SEALED ABOUT SALARIES?
by Michael L. Smith, J.D., R.R.T.
Respiratory therapists know almost everything there is to know about their fellow RTs except their co-workers' salary. Discussing your salary with your co-workers is still considered taboo. Taboo aside, some employers have policies prohibiting or at least discouraging their employees from discussing their salaries with co-workers. Must you follow such policies in the workplace?
Generally, employers cannot prohibit employees from discussing their pay with their co-workers under federal law. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employees to engage in concerted activity for their mutual aid or protection. Concerted activity includes the discussion and comparison of salary or pay information between co-workers.
Consequently, employees are permitted to discuss their salary along with the other terms and conditions of their employment with fellow employees when those discussions are protected concerted activity. An employer who attempts to interfere with its employees' concerted activity may be engaging in an unfair labor practice under the NLRA.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the government agency primarily responsible for enforcing the NLRA. The NLRB has ruled numerous times that policies limiting or prohibiting employees from discussing their salary violated the National Labor Relations Act. An employer's policy discouraging employees from discussing their salary can violate the NLRA if the policy results in any of the following three results:
- The employee reasonably considers the policy a prohibition on discussing salary.
- The employer's policy was prepared in response to union activity.
- The policy is applied to limit the employees' rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRA applies to most employees regardless of whether those employees are unionized. So RTs can discuss their salary with co-workers under federal law when those discussions are concerted activity.
There are definite benefits to knowing your co-workers' salaries. After all, labor is a commodity, and an employee who knows what his or her employer is willing to pay for that labor has a significant advantage when negotiating over an employee without that salary information. Open salary discussions between co-workers can level the playing field. Additionally, salary disparities based upon race and gender are much less likely to exist when employees know their co-workers' salaries.
Still, discussing the details of your salary with your co-workers is not without risk. RTs, like most people, are uncomfortable discussing their salary with their friends and co-workers. Your co-workers are more likely to discuss intimate details of their marital problems with you than their salary. If you ask your co-workers about their salary, you could very well be considered nosey. If you are the employee being asked about your salary, you probably will be dumbfounded and not know how to gracefully avoid the conversation. Salary discussions, like discussions of religion and politics, are frequently avoided in polite company.
Right or wrong, most of us consider our salary a measure of our worth. If we find out that we are paid less than our peers, it can damage our morale and self-esteem. Worse yet, once you discuss your salary with a co-worker, you never know how far that information will travel.
Luckily, there are salary surveys that allow RTs to compare their salary with their peers anonymously. So look over the ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine 2010 Annual Salary Survey, and thank the authors for providing you some extremely useful information.
Michael L. Smith, JD, RRT is board certified in health law by The Florida Bar and practices at The Health Law Firm in Altamonte Springs, Florida. This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for formal legal advice.
This article was originally published in Advance for Respiratory Care and Sleep Medicine.