There’s nothing many small business owners hate more than employees discussing their salaries with one another.  After all, what your small business pays its employees may vary considerably, based not only on factors like experience and educational level, but things like productivity and how well the employee negotiated his or her salary before starting work.  To curb hurt feelings (and limit requests for raises), some small businesses have adopted policies prohibiting their employees from discussing their salaries with each other.  The problem?  These policies may not be legal.

In a case recently decided by the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, National Labor Relations Board v. Northeastern Land Services, Inc., 645 F.3d 475 (2011), a company required a new employee to sign a contract stating that “the terms of this employment, including compensation, are confidential” and that disclosure “may constitute grounds for dismissal.”  The company later fired the employee for allegedly violating the confidentiality provision.

The National Labor Relations Board determined that the confidentiality provision was illegal and that, consequently, firing the employee for violating it was also illegal.  The First Circuit agreed.  It upheld a NLRB order requiring the company to reinstate the former employee, pay him back pay, and rescind the confidentiality provision in all of its employment contracts.

As a small business owner, it can be tempting to require that your employees keep their salary information to themselves.  However, at least under the NLRB’s current interpretation of the law, salary confidentiality provisions can be more trouble than they are worth.

By: Guest blogger Steven Koprince, an attorney with Petefish, Immel, Heeb & Hird, LLP in Lawrence, KS. Mr. Koprince’s practice emphasizes government contracts and small business law.