can an employer require you to keep your salary confidential?

A reader writes:

At my current employer, we’re being asked to sign a new legal agreement before they’ll process our bonus checks. One thing in the paperwork that caught my eye was this clause:

“1. Confidential Information. Both during and at all times after termination of my employment with the Company for any reason or no reason, I shall not use, disclose, publish or distribute to any person or entity any Confidential Information except as required for performance of my work for the Company or as authorized in advance and in writing by the Company. For purposes of this Agreement, ‘Confidential Information’ means … any information regarding my compensation or the details of my benefits package with the Company.”

First off, I’m wondering if this would apply to something anonymous like Glassdoor.com? Second (and I know this is asked a lot with usually the same answer)…is this legal? Articles like this one make me wonder if the NLRA applies in this case.

The National Labor Relations Act says that employers cannot prevent employees from discussing wages and working conditions among themselves. The idea is that employees need to be free to organize, and preventing them from discussing these topics would prevent them from organizing.

(There are some exceptions to this though. An employer can prohibit these discussions from taking place during times when people are supposed to working. And while employees can freely share information about their pay with other employees, they wouldn’t be protected by the law if they obtained information about other employees’ pay through files known to be off-limits to them or if they get others to break access restrictions and give them confidential information. In other words, Tom can tell you how much he makes, but getting the bookkeeper to tell you how much Tom is making wouldn’t be protected by the law.)

However, the law only applies to discussions within the organization. An employer can prohibit employees from discussing salary outside the organization. So yes, anonymous posts on GlassDoor would be a violation of the policy, if they were able to trace the post back to you.

There’s an upside to this policy though:  The next time you’re interviewing and an employer asks about your salary history, you can truthfully reply that your company prohibits you from sharing salary information externally.

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