Employee confidentiality agreements may violate the National Labor Relations Act in Texas

If you grew up in the 1980s or the first half of the 1990s you remember awesome Saturday morning cartoons. I’m pretty sure there’s still Saturday morning cartoons; but when I was a kid during this time period there was wall-to-wall cartoons from 6am until 11am. A few years they even ran until noon. It was glorious. The cartoons were stacked with commercials for McDonald’s, Nerf products and breakfast cereals. Among those commercials were the NBC, “The More You Know” campaign spots with the shooting star. (I am pretty sure these still air but it’s not the same without the awesome cartoons.) The purpose of these spots was to try to fit something meaningful within the tidal wave of commercial advertisements and meaningless, but incredibly fun, cartoons. But hey, NBC is right. Knowledge does empower.

Discussing pay with coworkers in Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas jobs

As adults working for employers, knowledge can also empower employees to negotiate fair working conditions. For a long time, many employers had policies prohibiting employees from sharing their pay rate with each other. Employers encouraged the spread of this policy because the less employees knew what other employees received the less likely they were to find a factual basis for demanding a raise.

These policies quickly dried up as an unofficial policy, that officially cost people their jobs, when the National Labor Relations Board started pushing to enforce employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act over the past 5-10 years. Although the National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935 it took over seventy years to stamp out a clear violation of worker rights under the act.

Concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act protects worker rights to “concerted activity” to improve working conditions, such as pay and safety conditions. Most people think of labor relations as something exclusive to unions; but “concerted activity” under the NLRA includes both formal union activity as well as non-union activities in which the employees merely join together to discuss and negotiate changes. This protection obviously applies to employees discussing wages with one another. In recent years the NLRB extended the prohibition on confidentiality policies to include employee confidentiality agreements.

The NLRB extended its interpretation of the NLRA to prohibit employee confidentiality agreements and confidentiality policies too broad or too vague on the basis that the confidentiality agreement or policy may encourage supervisors to quietly enforce wage confidentiality or inadvertently encourage employees to believe there is a wage confidentiality policy and the result would be to stifle the employees’ rights to discuss pay and other working conditions.

Confidentiality policies and pay discussions in Dallas and Fort Worth employment

Any employee confidentiality policy or agreement must be well-defined and limited to non-working condition subjects. It’s common for employers to request employees sign confidentiality agreements when hired or promoted into certain positions. There is nothing wrong with a confidentiality agreement, particularly when the job involves a trade secret or sensitive client data.

However, if the confidentiality agreement is vague or broad it can quickly run afoul of the NLRA. Employees should be concerned with the scope of these confidentiality agreements and policies. The limits on a confidentiality agreement created by the NLRA no longer apply to an employee after leaving the company. Confidentiality agreements within a severance or settlement agreement can prohibit the former employee from discussing a broader range of topics.

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