Many of our clients wonder whether a casual conversation about their pay may have played a role in their disciplinary action.
Consequently, we’re often asked, Can federal employees be fired for talking about wages?
The short answer is no. Federal law protects federal employees from termination or punishment simply for talking about their wages.
In fact, private-sector employees receive the same protections. However, the legal mechanisms that protect federal employees are different from the protections for private-sector employees. In addition, they are somewhat more complex.
If you’re curious about how the law protects you as a federal employee, you’ll want to read this article.
We’ll discuss the nature of federal employee discipline, your rights as a federal employee, and the ways in which the federal workplace protects your right to discuss your salary.
If you have more questions or need legal assistance, it’s best to contact a qualified federal employment attorney right away.
Why Can Federal Employees Talk About Wages?
Although it’s critical to know your rights as a federal employee, it’s also important to know why you have those rights.
The reason you can discuss your wages without fear of retaliation is because of the very nature of the federal service. To understand the federal service, let’s first briefly examine how employment works in the private sector.
Private-Sector Employment Protections: Few and Far Between
In the private sector, most employees work at will. At-will employment means that the employer can fire the employee at any time and for any reason.
The only exceptions are illegal reasons. These illegal reasons have been defined by various laws over the past few decades.
Examples of illegal reasons to fire private-sector employees include things like:
- The employee’s race,
- The employee’s sexual orientation, and
- The employee’s prior whistleblowing activities.
Again, there was a time when these protections did not exist. Prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer could fire an employee simply because the employee was black or white. And before Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967, an employer could fire you simply because they thought you were too old.
While these laws provide some basic protections to private-sector employees, they still face arbitrary termination for many other reasons. If their employer fires them, that’s usually the end of the matter.
However, private-sector employees enjoy the right to discuss wages because of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA).
The Inherent Protections of Federal Employment
Unlike private-sector employees, the Constitution grants federal employees a property interest in their federal employment. Because of that interest, a federal employee can only be fired after receiving due process.
Due process is a phrase that is commonly used but rarely understood. Simply stated, due process is the specific way in which the government can deprive someone of their life, liberty, or property. If a federal employee loses their job without receiving due process, then their termination is illegal.
Due process rights include several critical protections for federal employees. One of the most important is that federal employers can only terminate their employees for just cause.
That means your employer cannot fire you at will. Instead, the burden falls on them to show that they have a legitimate reason for firing you that relates to the efficiency of the federal service.
Practically speaking, that means they need to show either your performance is consistently poor or that you committed some act of misconduct, like not showing up to work or threatening another employee.
Simply talking about your wages does not relate to the efficiency of the service. For that reason, your employer cannot fire you simply for discussing your wages.
The Role of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute
Aside from due process rights, there is a specific law that grants extra protection to wage discussions in the federal workplace.
That law is the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS). Congress passed the FSLMRS in 1978 to regulate and improve labor relations in the federal government.
The FSLMRS ensures federal employees the right to organize, bargain collectively, and participate through labor organizations of their choice in decisions affecting their working conditions.
These overarching rights include the right to discuss your wages and other aspects of your job. In this sense, FSLMRS is similar to the NLRA. However, whereas the FSLMRS specifically applies to federal employees, the NLRA covers private-sector employees.
So Can an Employer Ever Fire You for Talking About Your Pay?
While federal employers cannot fire their employees for discussing wages, they can take disciplinary actions against employees who commit misconduct while talking about their wages.
For instance, you may face discipline if you disrupt your workplace by openly taunting another employee who makes less money than you. Another example would be insulting your boss at a team meeting because you think your wages are too low.
Need Legal Assistance? We Can Help.
We hope that you can rest easy now that you know the answer to the question, Can my employer fire me for talking about my salary?
However, agencies do not always understand the law, and some agencies openly ignore the law. When that happens, they may try to take illegal action against you because you discussed your wages with another employee. If you find yourself in that situation, get legal counsel right away.
Our attorneys at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, only represent federal employees.
That means they have extensive knowledge regarding every kind of legal issue in the federal workplace, including retaliatory disciplinary actions. On top of that, we strive to provide you with the outstanding customer service you deserve.
So don’t wait. Contact us today to schedule an initial appointment.