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April 11, 2006 > Watercooler Counsel

Watercooler Counsel

Money Talk

by Rich Proulx

Q: When I was hired, I was told that I was not allowed to talk about my hourly pay rate with my fellow counselors. Is this legal?
Censured Counselor in Fremont

A: Probably not. According to the NLRB, in the absence of a legitimate business justification, it is an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) for an employer to forbid employees from discussing their wages. The NLRA, which gives employees the right to form unions, also gives employees the right to engage in "concerted activities" for the purpose of "mutual aid or protection." Discussing wages with coworkers falls under this protection. This is true for union and non-union employees. While not every rule that prohibits discussions of wages with coworkers will run afoul of the NLRA, it may be tough for an employer to establish the required "legitimate and substantial business justification" for such a rule to be permissible.

Q: I'm a business owner. A friend of mine recently mentioned that I should be filing an EEO-1 form every year. Can you tell me about this form?
Formless in Milpitas

A: The form provides a snapshot of the breakdown by sex and race/ethnicity of your workforce. Generally, all private employers with 100 or more employees need to file the EEO-1 form by September 30 of each year (schools, unions and government agencies have a different form). Federal contractors with $50,000 or more in contracts also have to file if they have 50 or more employees. For instructions on how to file, click on the top result after Googling "EEO-1."

Q: My supervisor is Guatemalan. I'm Mexican. He's recently hired lots of Guatemalans and I'm starting to feel left out. Is this discriminatory?
Isolated in Hayward

A: I would need to have more information to answer your question. Are you being treated differently? How are you isolated? Employees have a right to equal terms and conditions of employment based on their national origin. So, if the Guatemalans are getting any kind of preferential treatment because of their national origin, that would be illegal. Now, if you are feeling left out because you prefer to work with people from your own country, that's another matter entirely. We are fortunate to live in an age of diverse workplaces, and there is nothing that requires your employer to provide you with coworkers from your same country of origin. If your employer is hiring Guatemalans on a preferential basis because they are from Guatemala, then likely there are some applicants who are being discriminated against. You, however, would not be a discrimination victim because you were hired.

Rich and his team of government experts cut through the red tape to bring you answers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage is $16.47 (not including farm workers, supervisors and government employees). Send your questions to, whose day job is Supervisory Investigator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Identifying information in the questions may be fictional.

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