The company told employees that “Slack channels are provided to conduct Apple business and must advance the work, deliverables, or mission of Apple departments and teams,” The Verge reported.
Apple reportedly told staff that “Slack channels for activities and hobbies not recognized as Apple Employee clubs or Diversity Network Associations (DNAs) aren’t permitted and shouldn’t be created.”
Both Apple and Slack did not respond to MarketWatch’s requests for comment.
‘I can’t see how this could be lawful’
Despite the fact that there are existing Slack channels Apple employees use for the purpose of sharing dad jokes or dog pictures, employment attorneys question the legality of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company banning employees to discuss pay over Slack.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that employees “have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”
Some 43% of U.S. companies don’t disclose any salary information besides what an employee could expect to see on their paycheck, according to a 2020-2021 survey that included more than 3,000 managers published by PayScale, a company that publishes salary information and job postings.
And for many employees, talking about pay is taboo. Some research suggests that greater levels of pay transparency could help close the gender wage gap in the U.S. where women earned 82% of what men did last year.
David J. Pryzbylski a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, a law firm with offices in 20 different U.S. cities, said Apple’s move may not explicitly be a violation of the NLRA. “For many companies, it’s counterintuitive or not readily apparent to think about the NLRA when a union isn’t in play, but that law often rears its head in these scenarios,” he said.
The National Labor Relations Board, an independent government agency tasked with enforcing labor laws, “has over the years found many employers to have violated the NLRA when they have sought to prevent or ‘chill’ employee discussions about workplace issues,” Pryzbylski told MarketWatch.
Other employment law experts see it differently. “I can’t see how this could be lawful,” Cynthia Estlund, a labor scholar and law professor at New York University, said referring to Apple’s move to ban the Slack channel employees created to discuss pay.
‘Not allowing the use of an employer-paid communication service arguably is not against the law’
Employers aren’t allowed to stop employees from discussing pay or inquiring about a coworker’s pay, according to the 2015 California’s Equal Pay Act. Furthermore, they cannot retaliate against them for doing so.
But the specifics of this case may be important. “Not allowing the use of an employer-paid communication service arguably is not against the law,” said Ronald Zambrano, employment law chair at West Coast Trial Lawyers, a Los Angeles–based law firm.
“Unless Apple is going beyond the denial of Slack, such as telling employees not to discuss pay at all, during their own personal time, punishing those who do so on their own time their policy is not illegal,” he added. But he acknowledged that “the optics are terrible.”