United States: March Vastness: Blanket Policies On Employee Salary And Discipline Disclosures Unlawful Says D.C. Circuit Court

Last Updated: April 6 2017
Article by Robert Sheridan

This past week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important decision addressing two on-the-bubble workplace confidentiality policies – one which made the cut, while the other one made its way over to the legal equivalent of the NIT. The decision explored the boundaries of workplace directives related to the discussion of salary and employee discipline information and non-disclosure in investigations.

Brief Procedural and Legal Backdrop

The decision, Banner Health System v. NLRB, emerged from discovery obtained by the NLRB in an unfair labor practice case against the company. Discovery unearthed two documents: (1) a confidentiality agreement that Banner Health required all new hires to sign; and (2) an interview form utilized by Banner Health's human resources consultant for investigations.

The confidentiality agreement directed Banner Health workers to not discuss their co-workers, "private employee information (such as salaries, disciplinary action, etc.)" unless the information was "shared by the employee." Separately, the interview form directed investigators to request non-disclosure from employees subject to investigatory interviews.

The NLRB found that both documents impermissibly infringed on the workers' Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.

The Confidentiality Agreement Went Too Far

The D.C. Circuit's decision concerning the confidentiality agreement was a proverbial layup for the court—as it found that the agreement struck at the "heartland of Section 7 activity," and that the safe harbor language permitting discussion of salary or discipline when disclosed by the subject employee did not salvage it. The court reasoned that Section 7 extends to protection of information innocently obtained making this safe harbor language unworkable in practice. Ultimately, the court found that a reasonable employee could well understand the company's prohibition of salary and disciplinary-based discussions were the very types of discussions that Section 7 protects and that the agreement curbed.

The Investigation Non-Disclosure Policy Was Fine in Context

While the court would have been troubled by a blanket policy against disclosing the investigation, it did not find evidence of such a policy here despite the language in the interview form. While this language set forth a scripted request for non-disclosure, the company's human resources consultant had testified in the prior proceeding that she would only request non-disclosure for certain sensitive investigations and not in all investigations.

Though the NLRB deduced and determined from this testimony that Banner Health engaged in a policy of categorical non-disclosure in an entire subset of investigations (like those involving sexual harassment), the court disagreed with these deductions, and found that the script, standing alone, might chill workers Section 7 rights, but that no evidence suggested employees were aware of the interview form or its contents. Further, the court reasoned that the consultant's testimony was too "terse and unclear" to support the NRLB's conclusion that Banner Health employed a blanket policy of investigatory non-disclosure.


Because the NLRB has interpreted Section 7 to apply to both organized and non-unionized settings, Banner Health has broad implications.

  • First, a policy completely banning discussion of salaries or employee discipline will likely violate the NLRA absent a legitimate and substantial business justification for the rule that outweighs the adverse effect on the interests of the employees — a limited exception. The Banner court did not mince words, as it found that these topics strike at the "heartland" of employees' Section 7 rights. Indeed in other settings, discussion of salary information has come to the forefront of the pay equity debate. Just by way of example, the Pay Equity Act, which goes into effect in Massachusetts next July, bars employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history or from seeking salary history information from their current or former employers.
  • Similarly, in the investigation setting, a blanket policy mandating confidentiality will also likely become problematic. The Banner court dismissed the NLRB's arguments on evidentiary grounds, but the tone of the decision suggests that a blanket non-disclosure policy, the investigatory equivalent of a full court press, may not withstand scrutiny.
  • At the same time, the court, contrary to the hopes of many, declined to opine on whether and when employers may require employees to keep an investigation confidential. The NLRB says employers should make that decision on a case-by-case assessment. Others have said that such a rule doesn't work, especially when performing a discrimination or harassment investigation. Even the EEOC has voiced its concerns. At least for now however, employers should continue to take a measured approach, which balances the integrity of investigations (including the need to protect complainants, promote witness candor and avoid the destruction of evidence) with employees' rights to discuss workplace concerns.
  • The Banner Health decision provides a good spur for spring cleaning: employers and their counsel should take a close look at standard language in confidentiality agreements and policies surrounding investigatory confidentiality to ensure that well-intentioned strictures do not impermissibly infringe on employees' rights to discuss critical terms and conditions of employment, like salary and disciplinary measures.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions