Can You Be Fired for Talking About Pay? A Guide

Employer reprimanding employee for discussing pay
You might have grown up hearing that talking about finances in front of others was rude. However, this does not mean publicly discussing your finances is illegal. Federal law prohibits your employer from disciplining or firing you for discussing your pay and benefits with your coworkers.

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) protects your right to discuss your pay with your fellow employees without the fear of retaliation. Even in a right-to-work state like Florida, your ability to freely discuss your wages is legally protected.

Yet, for various reasons, few employers encourage their employees to exercise their right to discuss wages. And unfortunately, even fewer employees know this right even exists. In our society, pay gaps do exist, and employees may feel deterred from discussing such matters due to a lack of power in comparison to their managers.

Employers who attempt to fire or otherwise retaliate against employees for exercising their rights may be the subject of a lawsuit and potentially liable for damages to all affected employees.

If your employer catches you and another employee discussing pay, your employer cannot:

  • Force you to reveal what was discussed
  • Prohibit you from having further conversations with other employees
  • Install cameras or audio-visual devices to record future conversations or
  • Make you sign an agreement not to discuss such matters

Having an employment law attorney can equip you with knowledge of your workplace rights. With your attorney’s assistance, you can confidently assert these rights, thereby improving not only your work experience but also that of your co-workers.

Can Employers Prospectively Prohibit Employees from Discussing Wages?

You might also be wondering whether employers can prospectively prohibit employees from discussing wages. That is, rather than punishing you after these discussions occur, can your employer create policies that prohibit you from having these conversations in the first place? Here, too, the answer is “no.”

Two employees discussing wages

Employers cannot prospectively restrict or prohibit you from talking to co-workers about your wages. You may have such discussions when not at work, when you are on break, and even during work if you are otherwise allowed to have other nonwork-related conversations. These rights exist regardless of whether you are represented by a union.

Even if your employer gives you a written contract that states you should not discuss wages with other employees, such efforts are illegal and cannot be legally enforced. For example, suppose your employer presents you with a company handbook with a policy stating you cannot discuss your wages or benefits with other employees. This sort of explicit prohibition is not permitted under the law and cannot be enforced.

But now, suppose your employer does not have a policy against discussing wages but tells you that doing so is considered “disrespectful” to them and that they would prefer you simply come talk to them about any wage concerns you may have. This is not an explicit prohibition against wage discussions, and therefore, it is not illegal. However, if your employer attempts to take action against you when you do discuss your pay with other employees, such retaliatory action would be illegal.

Now, suppose a situation where your employer implements a policy that prohibits you from having any nonwork-related conversations because doing so is distracting and can lead to an accident in the workplace. In cases where the employer has a legitimate reason for prohibiting all non-essential communication while on the job, such a policy could withstand legal scrutiny. It is even more likely a policy will be upheld if the employer can show there is a particular need that makes it risky to have non-essential communications about personal matters. However, absent these extreme situations, your right to discuss wages with whomever you choose should be respected and protected.

What to Do if Your Employer Prohibits Discussing Wages?

Not all employers know the limits of their authority, especially when it comes to wage discussions. Just because your employer tries to prohibit you from talking about wages on company time does not necessarily mean they have nefarious intentions. Your employer may simply be ignorant of the NLRA and the protections it offers.

A discussion between you, your attorney, and your employer may be all that is necessary to correct any misunderstandings your employer might have had about allowing you to discuss wages at work. This resolution could create goodwill between you and your employer; by complying with the law, your employer avoids the possibility of a costly lawsuit.

If your employer persists in telling you not to discuss your wages at work or if you experience any sort of discipline or retaliation for doing so, you may need legal assistance. Your employment law attorney can help you prepare and present a claim to the National Labor Relations Board, which has the power to enforce the NLRA.

Before visiting your attorney, try to write down the details of the discipline or retaliation you have faced from management when discussing your wages. To the extent it is possible, create a timeline with the following notes:

  • When, where, and with whom were you discussing the wages;
  • When did the related conversations with your employer take place;
  • How were you approached by your employer, for example, in a formal disciplinary setting or an informal coaching session;
  • Which witnesses can corroborate any part of your story and/or
  • What impact or consequences did you experience from your interaction with your employer.

It is also very important to save any e-mails, text messages, call logs, or other communications you receive from your employer or other coworkers about the incident.

By taking action, you communicate to your employer that you take your rights seriously and insist on being afforded the protections you deserve.

Retaliation Claims Related to Discussing Wages

Retaliation can take many forms, but it is generally understood as any negative employment action taken against you in response to engaging in a protected activity. In the context of having discussions about wages with other co-workers, retaliation could be:

  • A demotion in job title
  • A reduction in your pay or being suspended without pay
  • Having benefits being taken away and/or
  • Being assigned undesirable shifts for no valid reason

If your employer is actively retaliating against you, you should consider hiring an attorney to file a claim with the National Labor Relations Board as soon as possible. The Board will examine any evidence you have, including correspondence with your employer and witness statements. If a violation of the NLRA is found, the Board can take action against your employer and direct that you be compensated for the negative consequences that you unjustly faced.

Confidentiality Agreements and Wage Discussion

Some employers require new employees to sign confidentiality agreements as a condition of their employment. These agreements limit the information employees can share with others inside or outside of the employer’s organization. They are a common feature in workplaces that use unique or valuable intellectual property.

Confidentiality agreements are generally enforceable, but a provision that prohibits you from discussing your wages with others is generally not. Any inclusion of such a term in a confidentiality agreement should be stricken since your employer cannot make you give up this important workplace protection in exchange for employment or other work-related benefits.

If you see a clause such as this in your confidentiality agreement, you should insist that your employer remove it prior to signing it. An experienced Florida employment law attorney can have this conversation with your employer and impress upon them the illegality of such a provision.

Non-Compete Agreements and Wage Discussion

Similar to a confidentiality agreement, a non-compete agreement limits your ability to work in competition with an employer after you leave your position. This can be advantageous to an employer that has employees with specialized or one-of-a-kind skills.

Employer signing an employee non-compete agreement

Like confidentiality agreements, reasonable non-compete agreements that do not unnecessarily prevent you from earning a living are enforceable. However, any provision in such an agreement that prevents you from talking about your wages with others inside or outside the workplace is illegal. Your employer should be confronted about such a provision and be required to remove it before you sign the agreement.

The Consequences of Prohibiting Wage Discussion

An employer might legitimately believe that by prohibiting employees from discussing their pay with one another, the employer can promote harmony in the workplace. The employer might even believe they can get away with paying certain employees less even though they do the same job simply because it saves money for the business. These possible motivations illustrate the consequences that can come when you and your co-workers are not free to talk about your pay. Significant pay gaps can persist in your organization if you and other employees cannot speak freely. These pay gaps are not only unfair, but they can also be discriminatory and illegal.

Additionally, policies preventing you from discussing your pay with other co-workers can make it difficult to organize and approach management about concerns with your compensation. You may hesitate to go to management alone, and it would be difficult to know how many other co-workers share your concerns if you cannot speak to them about their wages.

Preventing conversations between employees about their wages and benefits keeps them in the dark about their situation and prevents them from speaking up for themselves. As a result, employees’ morale may drop, and turnover may increase as employees feel they have no recourse to improve their situations.

Get Assistance from an Attorney

Your ability and right to discuss your pay with other employees is crucial to protecting your interests in being treated fairly. When you and your co-workers are not being treated or paid fairly, the productivity and well-being of you and the company suffer.

Wage transparency ensures everyone is treated fairly and gives employees a sense of power and control over their futures.

At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa P.A., we are passionate about defending employees’ rights. It can be challenging to know whether or not the speech your employer is prohibiting is protected by law. If you are experiencing any sort of retaliation or need advice about your legal rights, contact our retaliation attorneys in Florida immediately.

We will use our decades of employment law experience in Florida to ensure you know your rights and how to exercise them in the workplace.

Related Posts

Recent Posts

Contact Us

Text Permission
Terms and Conditions(Required)
Help Guides


Dealing with unpaid wages, discrimination or wrongful termination? Get the information you need to protect your workplace rights. We offer employment law resources to help you fight for workplace justice.