HR professional terminated for discussing confidential wage information with another employee.

On July 16, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) released a brand new Advice Memorandum from its Office of the General Counsel addressing the issue of whether an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by terminating a human resources employee based on its belief that she shared with coworkers confidential wage information she obtained through her position.

As the HR employee was applying for higher-paid positions with the employer, the employer received an anonymous tip that the employee disclosed to a colleague employee salary information she obtained in her HR role. The employer investigated and fired the employee for the unauthorized disclosure.

The advice memo concluded that the employer did not violate the NLRA because the employee was discharged based on its reasonable belief that she divulged confidential wage information to which she had access because of her position, but which were unrelated to her normal work activity. 

The memo noted that employees are entitled to use, for NLRA purposes, information that comes to their attention in the normal course of their work, but they are not engaged in protected conduct “when they go outside their normal work activity to obtain an employer’s confidential information, even when they use it to support otherwise legitimate Section 7 activity.”

Additionally, the employee’s discussion of wages with coworkers did not constitute concerted protected activity because the discussions were not pursued for “mutual aid or protection.”  Rather, the purpose of the discussions was informational.  So remember, if you are a HR professional, make sure you keep the information that comes across your desk confidential.