Can a company fire you for talking with co-workers about pay?

On Behalf of | May 26, 2021 | Employment law

When employees talk about what they earn, sometimes the information shared upsets some of the workers. For example, if a group discusses the wages paid in a particular department and the only woman in that department realizes she makes substantially less than all of her male co-workers, she may feel like the company has treated her unfairly.


Companies have an obligation to pay workers fairly based on experience and job duties, but many times, other characteristics impact someone’s wages. Workers openly discussing wages can expose biases in how the company treats different groups of workers based on their sex, race or other characteristics.


Some companies, hoping to keep their workers from stirring up negativity and disrupting company culture, may have rules that state workers cannot discuss their wages. If your boss finds out that you have asked your coworkers about their compensation, can they fire you for breaking company policy?


Company policy does not supersede federal employment laws

Workers have the right to organize, and that right includes such activities as comparing what pay people receive for their work. Federal employment laws are clear about the right of employees to advocate for themselves, which might include learning what other workers earn to bargain more effectively for fair compensation.


Companies can sometimes include terms in their employment contracts or policies that don’t reflect the law. However, they cannot enforce those policies without possibly giving their workers grounds to make a claim against the company. Businesses generally know they have an obligation to offer fair pay, and they may realize that wage disclosure among staff members could lead to conflicts and higher rates of worker dissatisfaction.


Enforcing a company policy that violates federal law by terminating a worker could lead to a civil lawsuit by the worker facing unfair retaliation for protected activities.


Retaliation can lead to wrongful termination claims

Losing your job means financial struggles and possibly career setbacks. Although companies can take disciplinary action for many reasons including violations of company policy, they should not retaliate against workers for knowing and asserting their rights, like the right to organize and to receive a fair wage regardless of their sex or race.


Pushing back against retaliatory terminations targeting workers who push others to talk about compensation can remind a company that it has to respect employment law and the rights of its workers. A successful wrongful termination claim can reduce the financial impact of a worker’s unfair firing.