SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Want to talk about who is overpaid or underpaid at your office, or gripe about long hours or working conditions? Want to even take those complaints to social media? You can, according to the National Labor Relations Board. And if you're an employer, you should be aware that the NLRB has been aggressive on this issue.
Of course, just because you have the right to go public with rants about your employer doesn't mean it's the greatest move for your career.
The law says that employers can't interfere with employees' discussion of wages and working conditions, because employees have the right to talk about such matters in the context of forming a union, or bargaining collectively. The NLRB recently filed a complaint against Quicken Loans, charging that an employee handbook that cautions people against speaking to the media, or saying anything detrimental about the company, violates the law.
The NLRB has made clear, however, that the link with union organizing does not have to be direct. It stepped in, for example, when an Oregon food-distribution company, Sabo, fired a worker for speculating to his peers that a layoff was imminent. (Sabo is appealing.)
A well-run company with fair compensation practices shouldn't be overly worried if its employees talk about pay, says Hui Liao, the Smith Dean’s Professor in Leadership and Management at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, because pay gaps, particularly those based on merit, can motivate people. That is, if people know what high-performers and managers make, they will work harder. And for such motivation to occur, there has to be some transparency.
At the same time, Liao says, it's understandable why a company might be concerned if people go really public with salaries — such as posting them online — since that lets competitors know the price of poaching talent. As for taking to social media to air grievances about your job — well, think carefully. "If you value your long-term relationship with the company, taking your complaints public might not be a wise move," she says. "I would first try a more moderate and collaborative approach to work out a mutually acceptable solution."