Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

You Have The Right To Discuss Salary With Coworkers

Many people who are trying to figure out whether they've been the victim of discrimination miss an obvious way to find out how much coworkers are making: asking them. Some employers try to prevent this by putting in handbooks or contracts a provision prohibiting salary discussions among coworkers. Those employers are, for the most part, breaking the law.

If you work for a non-government employer and aren't a supervisor or management, you likely have the absolute right to discuss your salary, benefits and other working conditions with your coworkers.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects employees who engage in concerted activity to improve working conditions. That means you can discuss pay and benefits with coworkers and the employer is not allowed to punish you for doing so.

Before you defy management directives and start discreetly asking trusted coworkers to exchange salary information, you should make sure you aren't exempt from this law. While the vast majority of non-government employers are covered, some are exempt. Independent contractors and supervisors are exempt. But many people classified as contractors are misclassified and are really employees. You may be protected even if you think you aren't.

Even if you're allowed by law to discuss pay with coworkers, I still suggest using some sense. Some people are offended if you ask about money. Make sure you trust the person and have a good idea that they won't mind. If it's someone you suspect is also underpaid, you might convince them to talk to you with some evidence, such as telling them that you know John Smith and Jim Doe make more than you for the same work, but you are wondering if other women in the company are also underpaid for the same work. Another time to ask is when someone is leaving. They may mind less if they're on their way out the door.

What you don't want to do is sneak into HR and look at their payroll records, hack the payroll company computers, or put a tape recorder in someone's office hoping to catch them in salary discussions. Those tactics are illegal. You not only will be fired if you're caught - you might go to jail.

If your company has an illegal policy or contract saying you can't discuss salary with coworkers, one option is to report them to the NLRB. Cases saying these prohibitions are illegal have been around way before the current issue arose about the current NLRB's makeup, so the fact that these policies are illegal won't change, no matter how optimistic employer organizations get. Even if you haven't been fired based on an illegal policy, you can file a complaint and NLRB may force your employer to change their evil ways.

If you think you're the victim of discrimination, one way to prove it is to prove you're paid less than others in a different category than you. Don't write off the easiest way to find out if you're paid unfairly. Go ahead. Take a coworker to lunch. Ask. You might be surprised by what you find out.

Friday, February 8, 2013

NLRB Decision Means Delays, Not Employer Free-For-All

There has been much crowing and breaking-out-of-champagne on the management side over the recent case saying President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional.

The case applies to that one NLRB matter and that one only. Other NLRB cases that have pending appeals may get similar decisions, or they may not. Right now, NLRB is proceeding as normal, until a court rules otherwise.The Supreme Court has declined to take the issue up, so the decision won't have a wide-ranging impact yet. Business lobbyists want employers to appeal all NLRB decisions they don't like so they can benefit from the decision.

Employers may now think it's safe to fire employees for objecting to working conditions on Facebook and other social media. They may also get excited about the possibility that some of the other recent decisions on key issues may disappear. They're wrong.

As to the Facebook firing cases, the first one came down in 2011. That means the case is likely completely unaffected by the court decision, as is the NLRB’s stance that employees cannot be fired for discussing working conditions on Facebook and in other social media.

Companies who decide the law no longer applies to them do so at their own risk. The President will eventually appoint NLRB members successfully. In the meantime, the agency itself continues its investigation and decision-making process. Some recent decisions about confidentiality of investigations, at-will policies and arbitration agreements might be affected, but they might not.

What it really means is that Republican Senators who hold up the President's appointments to the Board for spite will cause cases to pile up. Staff at NLRB are still busy processing cases. Those that move up to the Board level will find that no hearings can be held. Our tax dollars are being used to backlog an agency that usually moves quickly, and whose decisions benefit both employers and employees, depending on the case. If a union engages in unfair practices, how will aggrieved employers get relief under this new genius gridlock plan? They won't, that's how. When the Board is finally back up to quorum, they'll have to work with rocket speed to catch up, meaning they'll need extra staff to help them process cases.

In the meantime, employers shouldn't celebrate too much. The Board will be back.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Top 6 Reasons Why Discrimination Laws Are Good For White Guys

I just finished an interesting online live chat with AOL Jobs about gay rights in the workplace. One of the participants espoused the view that all discrimination laws are bad and that corporations shouldn't have to spend their money defending against discrimination claims. I was the only old lady on the chat, that is, the only person old enough to remember the bad old days when discrimination was legal. Trust me. We don't want to go back there.

I hear white guys complain about anti-discrimination laws all the time, and I understand that it's tough to have the top-banana spot taken away, especially when it wasn't based on anything like merit. But if you think about it, discrimination laws benefit everyone, including white guys.

Here are the top 6 ways I can think of that white guys benefit from discrimination laws:

1. Short guys: Anyone who remembers the bad old days remembers that cops had to be big burly guys. When women joined police forces, height requirements were used to exclude them disproportionately. Disparate impact laws threw out height requirements, and replaced them with physical agility tests. Who benefited besides women? Short guys. Suddenly, height discrimination went out the window, and even smaller guys can be cops.

2. Skinny guys: Along with those old height requirements were minimum weight requirements. Only burly white guys could be cops, firefighters, and some other professions that required physical work. Now, skinny guys can prove they can do the job through physical agility tests.

3. Single guys: Back when white guys ruled, there was lots of pressure on men to get married. Single guys were looked on with suspicion. Were they gay? Guys with families to support were favored in many ways over single guys. Now, it's okay to be single.

4. Jewish, Muslim and Atheist guys: When white guys ruled, it was really only Christian white guys who got the big offices. Discrimination against Jewish, Muslim and other religions was rampant and legal. Now, even white guys can be whatever religion they want, or no religion at all. While there's still discrimination, it's illegal.

5. White as Minority: There are cities and counties in the U.S. with white minority populations. Payback's a bitch, but it's illegal. Imagine how bad the payback would be when the tide turned if race and national origin discrimination were not illegal. As more cities become majority black, Hispanic or Asian, white guys should be glad for the legal protections.

6. Less Financial Pressure: In the old days of legal discrimination, women had to stay home, so all the financial pressure was on men to support their families. Now, women can share the financial load. Less pressure equals better health and better chances of surviving a financial crisis.

I'm sure there are other ways white guys benefit from anti-discrimination laws. Can you think of any I've left out? I'd love to hear them. Personally, I'm glad the bad old days are gone. More people in the workforce means we are more competitive, have smarter people at the top, and are more likely to make the innovations that keep our country great. We still don't have a person to waste in this country. I hope we get to the point where all employees are judged on their abilities alone.