Everyone's been curious at some point to know whether your co-workers make more money than you.

I was in this position once at a past job.

A part-time co-worker commented that she was considering hitting up our boss for another raise. I was full-time, yet I had a sneaking suspicion (call it women's intuition, whatever) that she was already making more than I was, because she had been with the company longer than I had.

Did I blatantly ask her? Of course not, and here's why:

Most employers, union or not, forbid employees from discussing wages among themselves.

However, according to the National Labor Relations Board, this is a violation of the federal labor law.

Recently, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a case in which a temporary worker was fired for breaching confidentiality provision in his contract.

According to the Nashua Telegraph, Jamison Dupuy was working for Northeastern Land Services, a Rhode Island temp agency that provides employees for natural gas and telecommunications clients. Dupuy complained directly to the client he was working for, El Paso Energy, about the way NLS was paying him.

NLS said, “You’re fired.”

Apparently they had a confidentiality clause that said, “Employee … understands that the terms of this employment, including compensation, are confidential to Employee and the NLS Group. Disclosure of these terms to other parties may constitute grounds for dismissal.”

Dupuy filed an unfair labor practice complaint saying NLS violated the National Labor Relations Act with an unlawful clause that “discouraged employees from engaging in protected concerted activity.”

Dupuy’s complaint was first dismissed by an administrative law judge, who found that NLS’ provision did not violate the NLRA.

In stepped the NLRB, which got the decision reversed because “employees reasonably could construe the language – which precluded discussing compensation and other terms of employment with ‘other parties’ – as prohibiting discussion with union representatives about those issues.”

Employment law expert Joseph Beachboard says, “Employers may restrict employee speech regarding trade secrets, undisclosed company business plans or confidential employee or customer information. In particular, employers that routinely include confidentiality language in employment agreements and employee handbooks should ensure that it cannot be interpreted as precluding employees from discussing compensation or other employment terms and conditions with union representatives.”

The staffing industry in particular has a reason to fear employee breach of confidentiality. They don’t want their vendors to know how much profit they’re making in markups between employee wages and client fees.

With the NLRB’s 2008 ruling that firms cannot take action against employees who breach “overbroad confidentiality clauses,” and this recent case, temporary agencies should be advised to update their policies if they haven’t already.

NLS was ordered to reinstate Dupuy and reimburse him for any loss of earnings and benefits that occurred from their actions.

Dupuy was fired in October 2001. That’s going to be a hefty sum, and based on the logical assumption that he didn’t wait around for 10 years to find a new job, it’s laughable to think he’d quit his current job to return to one that caused him a decade of litigation.

Tags: Staffing industry, Industry, Temporary Agencies, Wages, National Labor Relations Act, National Labor Relations Board, Breach of confidentiality, Confidentiality clause, Confidentiality language, El Paso Energy, Employee handbooks, Federal labor law, Jamison Dupuy, Joseph Beachboard, Nashua Telegraph, Natural gas, NLS, Northeastern Land Services, Protected concerted activity, Rhode Island temp agency, Temporary worker, Trade secrets, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Unfair labor practice complaint, Union