Whether I was working as a barista or a paralegal, the story was the same: My employers wanted me to keep my mouth shut about money.
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.
At the law firm, this warning was conveyed to me during my salary negotiation.
After I had worked for three months through a temp agency, the firm offered me a spot on their payroll.
Given the size and success of the firm, the starting salary seemed low.
The human resource manager tried to convince me that the offer was competitive.
She told me that she couldn’t offer more because it would be unfair to other paralegals.
She said that if we did not agree to a salary that day, then she would have to suspend me because I would be working past the allowed temp phase.
I insisted that she look into a higher offer and she agreed that we could meet again later.
Before I left, she had something to add.
“Make sure you don’t talk about your salary with anyone,” she said sweetly, as if she was giving advice to her own son. “It causes conflict and people can be let go for doing it.”
This is to the best of my recollection, not verbatim.
It wasn’t all that surprising to hear this from a corporate HR manager.
What was surprising was the déjà vu.
Just three months earlier, some of my Co-Workers at the coffee shop told me that our bosses, who worked in the office on salaries, and even the owner, got a higher cut of the tips than we did.
One barista told me that when she complained about it, the managers reduced her hours.
When you make Minimum Wage and have to fight for more than 30 hours per week, tips are pretty important, so I sat down with my managers to discuss the controversy.
That’s when they told me not to talk about it with the other baristas.
The owner “hates it when people talk about money,” my manager added, and “would fire people for it if he could.”
I sulked back to the espresso machine, making my lattes at half speed and failing to do side work.
In both workplaces, my bosses were breaking the law.
Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, 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 New York University Law Professor Cynthia Estlund explained to National Public Radio, 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.
And yet, gag rules thrive in workplaces across the country.
In a report updated this year, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that about half of American Employees in all sectors are either explicitly prohibited or strongly discouraged from discussing pay with their Co-Workers.
In the Private Sector, the number is higher - 61%.
To Read the Rest of This Labor News Story, Go to: www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/when-the-boss-says-dont-tell-your-coworkers-how-much-you-get-paid/374467/