should I have shared my salary with a coworker?

A reader writes:

I changed jobs recently — my new company is a big, multinational organization comprised of lots of divisions. I recently had a conversation with a friend in a comparable role (in an entirely different division of my company), who asked to meet up to discuss salary. He has been at our company for a long time, and he had an inkling that because he hasn’t moved around much, his salary might be lower than industry standard.

Alison, it was. By a lot. This friend is technically at a higher level than I am (one step up — he manages several people while I only manage one person). But other than his added management responsibilities, we do largely the same work, and it turns out I make about 25% more than he does. Also, it’s worth noting that I’m probably five years older than him and have therefore had more years to get raises, cost-of-living increases, etc. And I’ve changed employers more frequently, getting more money each time. But he definitely has a “bigger” job than I do, with all my responsibilities and then some, so the fact he’s paid so much less than me seems strange.

He point-blank asked me what I made, and I told him. We had a good conversation, he thanked me profusely for talking about all this with him so candidly, and I think he’s gathering information to make a case to his manager at some point soon for a raise. I trust that he will be discreet with my information.

But here I am … feeling weird. I know there’s a lot of talk about creating greater transparency around pay issues, but the few times I’ve had this conversation with colleagues, we both end up feeling bad, not good (even in this case, when I sense I’m fairly compensated). It feels SO taboo to talk about money with friends and colleagues. Should I have handled this request differently? Was I correct to share my salary with him, or not? Am I at any legal risk with my company for sharing salary info? We always hear that we should be talking about these issues, but we don’t usually get much guidance on how to do it. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

It does often feel taboo to talk about salary … and that is hugely to employers’ benefit and to employees’ disadvantage.

Secrecy around salary is exactly what allows salary inequities to continue unchallenged — it gets much harder to argue that you’re being paid unfairly when you don’t know what colleagues are making, and it gets much easier when you do. And it’s virtually impossible to unearth systemic pay gaps based on race or gender when you can’t compare salary data.

So I think you should feel good about the conversation you had with your coworker, and more people should be having those conversations.

But you’re worried that this could have repercussions for you at work, so let’s tackle that.

At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to “engage in concerted activities,” which includes the right to discuss your wages and working conditions with each other. Employers aren’t allowed to prohibit you from discussing your salary, and any attempts to do so violate the NLRA (which can be surprising to learn, considering how many workplaces have this — illegal — policy).

However, this protection only applies to non-supervisory employees, so it may not cover you (you mentioned you’re a manager). But if your employer ever confronts you about it, you can say something like this: “Oh, I didn’t realize that would be a problem! There’s been such a move toward salary transparency in order to combat gender and racial pay gaps that I hope we’ll reconsider that.” (In other words, turn it back around on them.) Or, since you’re new, you can lean on that — “Oh, I didn’t realize that! In my experience, companies are moving more toward pay transparency. Is that something we’d ever consider?” (Again, changing the conversation.)

If you’re really worried, you could ask your coworker not to use your name when he makes his case for a raise. It’s still useful for him to have the information to use as background if that’s all you’re comfortable with — but it’s far more useful for him to have freer rein with the info if you’re willing to allow that.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. Jenn*

    Yes, I wish discussing salary wasn’t taboo! And, I wish there were more sources of reliable salary data to gather info from. Alison, do you have plans to do another salary sharing thread? It has been two years since the last one (and two years between the first and second thread).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Especially with the surge recent in the economy. I’ve gone up about 35% in the last 2 years. Woohoo functional cash positivity vs struggling nonsense.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I know! I had no idea I was so poorly paid until I changed jobs last year. My salary is now 2x what it was! My life has gone from insecurity to “Can I really take a vacation? Like in a plane?”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I live in a high cost of living area as well, everyone was telling me I’d need 36 roommates living here. I have one roommate, he’s got whiskers and loves his specialty dindins, doesn’t chip in a darn thing towards rent either, little bum!

      1. CMart*

        I wonder if that’s because the people who are eager to participate are the people eager to know more about salary information — which happens to be folk early in their careers who haven’t see many companies or role levels.

      2. Jill*

        Is there any way it could be set it up with a few different comment threads to organize / channel different stages? The first comment could be “please reply here if you’re w/in 3 years of starting your career”, something like that?

        1. Tableau Wizard*

          If i remember correctly, there was a general format to follow. So maybe we could add “Years since degree” or “years since starting career” to the format.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I think Jill is proposing a visual organization and not just the information. So you could easily expand/collapse threads that applied/didn’t apply to you.

      3. Curious Cat*

        I’m very into the idea of doing the thread and would find it incredibly helpful! Although I’m early career, so perhaps that’s why.

      4. Geneticist*

        I think if there was some sort of sortable Google spreadsheet/form and then also the discussion, that would be amazing.

        1. Mouse*

          Maybe someone could put out a Google Form in an open thread? That way we could organize questions like “years in the workforce” and it gives you some nice graphs and a spreadsheet at the end.

        2. Anonymous Educator*

          Yes, I’d much rather have it in a Google form than a random bunch of responses typed out.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’d be happy to put the data into a spreadsheet and see what trends I can find.

        1. Justin*

          Oh cool.

          I’m learning how to use SPSS in school, and if I were better experienced I’d offer to do the same. (I am clearly now just talking for no reason.)

          1. Parenthesis Dude*

            If you’re just learning how to use SPSS, then this would be a good project to get experience.

  2. voyager1*

    I honestly think the LW did the right thing. That being said, has the person who approached them been promoted during their stay there? Was their a pay raise then? I work in banking and I have seen banks play the game of: Here is a promotion but no raise, but your pay ceiling has been upped since you are a different pay grade.

    It is a crummy thing to do and where I saw it done usually inpacted folks pretty badly. People still getting not much better then teller pay but doing banker or head teller kinds of work.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I wonder if salary compression is playing a role here, too. If you’re in the same company for a long time, you get capped at 2-3% (or whatever) COL raises. If someone comes in from the outside, they get to start higher on the salary food chain.

      1. Mike C.*

        Even if that’s company policy, there’s no way to justify it and will eventually come back to harm the company in unnecessary turnover.

      2. Tony*

        Hah, I think if you get to think you get capped to 2-3%, your manager is managing your expectations!

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Some places allow for negotiation of your raise, but other places really do say 2-3% is the limit they’ll allow. It’s not a merit increase, though, and that phrase used to irk my soul at my last company. To me, that’s a cost of living adjustment which everyone at my former $3b plus company should have been given regardless of performance.

          1. DKMA*

            Sounds like OP works a big company. I’d expect that the typical annual raise process is very formulaic and not flexible.

            There would almost always be an exception process to that though. Sometimes it’s something that can only really be addressed at formal promotion points, or needs to be tied to the annual raise process, or needs to be separate from the annual raise process, or etc. There is certainly a path though, how thorny depends on the company.

  3. voodoo*

    You did a fine thing and shouldn’t feel bad. Your employer should feel bad.

    Secrecy always benefits the employer, and it is in their best interest to limit opportunities for labor solidarity among those they employ. Good on this person for asking around, and good on you for not playing into your employer’s hand and instead being honest and direct about something that should be WAY more transparent across the board.

    1. Bulbasaur*

      Agreed. You did a good thing. It feels weird because it’s intended to feel weird – employers don’t want you doing it. But providing hard evidence to your colleague that he was underpaid by that much is very much a worthwhile thing to have done.

      That said I don’t tend to talk about salary myself so I get where you’re coming from. As a third party reading this example though, I feel quite strongly that you were in the right, which makes me wonder if I should reconsider my position a bit.

  4. Assistant Manager*

    Thanks for the info. While I was aware that it’s your legal right to discuss salary, i was unaware that it is illegal to *prevent staff from discussing salary*.

    I’ve told staff that it’s legal for then to discuss salary, but not a good idea to talk about because it leads to hurt feelings if you find out a coworker is paid differently than you are. I’ll definitely leave that part out in the future!

    1. ThatGirl*

      I had a weird thing where I got a decent raise this year, but not everyone got one (or not nearly as much as me) so I was encouraged to keep it private. And I sort of accidentally found out what one of my coworkers makes because she was asking me an ADP question and her paystubs (which show the net pay in large font) were right there on the screen. I make … considerably more than her. We’re in somewhat different roles and I know that honestly I’m more valuable to the company than she is, due to my skill set, so there’s reasons for it. But it still makes me feel weird.

      But yeah, for folks doing the same job, with roughly the same amount of experience and responsibility, it’s good to be able to talk about salaries.

      1. Lepidoptera*

        Just FYI you should have a tab in the upper right corner of the screen on the ADP dashboard that will X out all monetary fields, so you can have that sort of conversation without oversharing.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I don’t think there is on the Paystubs screen, which is where she was – but either way, she could have closed the window/minimized it, I didn’t actually need to see that screen to answer her question.

        2. katelyn*

          my ADP app has the $ hidden by default and you need to click the little eye button to show the details. Maybe you can ask your HR if they can turn that setting on?

          1. katelyn*

            never mind, you’re right once you’re into the paystubs section the numbers are there by default. They’re only hidden for me on the dashboard screen.

    2. atalanta0jess*

      Hearing that from a manager would be really…red-flaggy to me. It seems like it would mostly lead to hurt feelings if there were pay differences that were unfair and unmerited.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Same. Even if it’s meant well, that strikes me as a sort of “We know it’s not legal to say this, but we’re going to kinda sidestep that so we can say it anyway, just as a “please don’t” instead of “you can’t”.”

        To me, that’s a manager who’s trying to hide something and skating along the border of letter vs spirit of the law in order to do so. (And tbh, it’s my understanding that saying “please don’t” is still discouraging a legally protected activity, and just because it’s phrased as advice vs directive doesn’t protect you from it being considered an NLRA violation.)

        (to clarify – I’m not saying I think that’s what Assistant Manager is doing – I’m saying that’s how I’d read that, if a manager said that to me as an employee)

      2. I Took A Mint*

        I agree. This conversation only hurts/feels weird because someone is getting paid unfairly. I’m not hurt that the CEO makes more than me. But if Fergus the newbie is making more than Jane the seasoned veteran, then that’s a problem.

      3. Socks*

        Yeah. Hearing that would make me think that the manager knew some people were being paid unfairly- why else would anyone be upset to learn about how their pay stacks up against their coworkers? If everyone’s being paid a fair amount, there’s no reason for anyone to be hurt. And I realize that it’s certainly possible for someone to be upset about a perfectly fair pay disparity (like, if they don’t realize that they’re a mediocre worker comparing themselves to someone with twice their experience, or something), and that’s probably what Assistant Manager had in mind, but, still. That would be a super suspicious statement, to me.

        If a company is paying an employee a salary that they know is low enough that the employee would be upset to find out what their coworkers are making, I mean… THAT’S clearly the problem, not the underpaid employee being upset if they find out.

      4. Another comp professional*

        In years with low pay budgets where high performers were still singled out for a decent raise I have asked managers to make the employee aware that this is the case. I’m in UK so not the same legal restriction but anyway my aim was to stop the employee going back with a “hey, great pay rises this year” and being embarrassed when they discovered their colleagues aren’t in the same position. That’s not quite the same as telling them not to discuss their salary. I think that is what was probably going on here.

        1. TechWorker*

          The law is pretty similar in the UK. You can’t discipline someone from discussing pay or have a contract clause that forbids it

          1. Another comp professional*

            You are quite right and I had forgotten that because I’ve never worked anywhere that has tried to prevent it.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      Hurt feelings?

      As a manager you should be able to say “Jane gets paid more than you because of X,Y, Z. Here how you can get that too.”

      Yes, some people will say it “isn’t fair”. If you can justify your position then realize that these are the same people that have no self awareness. They think they are more skilled than they are. As a manager, you need to collect specifics to show them their errors. And if they won’t change at that point? It’s on them and they can complain. Because other team members see that Jane outperforms Karen.

      I’ve been the target of pay inequality and also on the other side where people are angry at my pay. The key is being able to justify the position. In the case of the pay inequality they couldn’t justify it. I needed up getting a 40% pay bump that year. In the case of people jealous of my pay my manager could say “Engineer is responsible for X and Y where you don’t have that skill set.

      Hurt feelings has no place in this discussion.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        “As a manager you should be able to say “Jane gets paid more than you because of X,Y, Z. Here how you can get that too.””

        Exactly. I’m going to have this discussion with an employee soon. I don’t look forward to it because she’s quite an emotional person, but I have to. She has hurt feelings about her pay grade (very new supervisor of one person; a few other non-supervisors have a higher pay grade due to the nature of their work, which is different than what she does) and I’ll have to explain that we can’t look at raising it until she offloads X, Y and Z so that I can start having her take on the higher level and more important A, B and C. Given her huge reluctance to offload things even though she’s very overwhelmed and admits it, I’m not confident we’ll get to the point of being able to change it.

        1. I Took A Mint*

          Still, since you can chart a clear path for her, she can make a choice–if she wants that higher salary she has to learn to offload things and make certain changes to her work. As opposed to some murky, hidden, hand-wavy reasons why her salary is the way it is.

    4. AMT*

      Assuming there are pay gaps that can’t be justified by experience or skill, those “hurt feelings” (and whatever negotiations or job-hunting happens after that) are the natural consequences of the employer failing to address those disparities! If knowing how their pay compares to their coworkers’ makes them feel bad, they’re either grossly unaware of the market rate for their work or — more likely — justifiably upset that they’re not being compensated fairly.

    5. Le Sigh*

      I would definitely leave that last part off, always. Even if you tell them it’s legal, following it up with “but you shouldn’t do this because…” can come across as backhanded pressure from management, a way to adhere to the letter but not the spirit of the law. And to staff it might read as “don’t discuss this or I might get in trouble and I need this job.” Lines like that (or just lying and telling staff they’re not allowed to discuss it) are well-known tactics companies use to keep people quiet on this stuff, and there’s a non-zero chance it reads that way to staff.

      Also, when I’ve found out about pay disparities, my feelings aren’t hurt at my coworker — if I’m upset, it’s at management, and I’m working on how to fix it.

    6. Legal Beagle*

      The second is the corollary of the first – if it’s your legal right to discuss salary at work, it naturally follows that your employer cannot legally prevent you from exercising that right. I agree with others that “hurt feelings” sounds like code for “there are pay inequities here, and it’s your responsibility to keep that from becoming an issue.” Pay inequities are a problem for the employer to fix, not a shameful secret for the employees to hide and tiptoe around.

  5. Lepidoptera*

    I just had a similar conversation with a temp-to-hire peer (this method of hiring is common in my field). I was jerked around and misled during my temp-to-hire timeline, and there was no one to help me navigate, so I wanted to make sure she didn’t end up in the same situation.

    One thing I felt weird about was requesting fair return–as in, “I told you all this, so you should come back after your paperwork is settled and tell me what you ended up with”. It feels like a fair trade, and yet I felt pushy requesting it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think an easier way to do it is to say it at the start — like, “I’d be glad to talk with you about this, and in return can I ask that you tell me what you end up with at the end of your negotiations so we’re sharing info all around?”

  6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’m in the “don’t discuss salary” camp. There are many different ways in which anyone can come to making their particular salary. So comparing 2 people who do the same job isn’t always a fair comparison. At my last company, I was hired in one position, then kind of forced into my next position with the same salary, which happened to be significantly more pay than someone doing the same job. But I wasn’t getting demoted, they needed someone for the position and I had the most experience, and they weren’t about to take away part of my salary. Discussing salary between 2 employees only leads to disaster for one or both. If you feel you deserve more money, do some research and talk to your manager. Coming in with “but so and so makes so much more than me” is not a good way to go.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Good question and I honestly don’t know. But that doesn’t change my comment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The thing is, that’s a big enough issue that it trumps the possibility that it might cause some animosity. (Also, there are plenty of places with salary transparency where people are dealing with it just fine, so I think that concern is overplayed here.)

          An alternative would be to address racial/gender inequality through government regulations (although most employers would much rather just let people talk about salary than deal with that), but until/unless that happens, people will be hamstrung unless they talk to each other.

          1. Tony*

            If you want to uncover inequalities by gender and race, you just need to publish anonymised statistics including gender and race ?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, if employers are willing to do that, absolutely. But the problem many people face is they work for orgs that aren’t going to — so they need other ways to get the info.

        2. MK*

          I don’t see why it should lead to hurt feelings, especially when there is such an objective reason for the gap. Why not share that your higher salary is because you were originally hired for another position? When asked by a first-time worker what my starting salary had been, I didn’t just give a number, I also explained I had come to the job with unusual experience. A conversation about salary should be that, a two-way discussion.

          By the way, I don’t see that refusing to talk about salary necessarily saves hurt feelings; people will make assumptions and that could end up worse.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Yes, if the reason is good, you can explain it.

            Hiding your salary because you get paid more than people thought you would have seems similar to employers hiding salary ranges, because they think all candidates will ask for the highest part of the range.

            You should be able to explain what qualifications/experience warrant the lower end of the range, the middle of the range, and the high end of the range.

            Likewise, your manager should be able to explain why you make more than other people doing the same job.

      2. Samwise*

        Get lucky, in my case. Some years ago our director showed a table with where salaries were by rank and length of time employed for our dept. Director didn’t really think it through; there were associate directors, assistant directors, a bunch of peons — but I and one other person had started literally one week apart, and I knew how much I was making, and it was $3K less than Mr. Started One Week Earlier Than Me. (I came to the job with substantially more experience and more education, plus I was already doing higher level work). I went home and said to my spouse, I’m gonna have to file an EEO complaint. The fellow announced he had taken another job the next day, lol. But I did talk to the director about it — he tried to explain that mumble mumble reasons mumble mumble. And then I got a raise.

        1. Anonymouse for this*

          Same thing happened to me – started one month after my coworker and about 6 months later I found out I was being paid about 2K less. She knew the hiring manager so was brought in higher up the scale. But she didn’t know any of the systems and I was teaching her . Took me about a year but I ended up getting my salary matched and back pay. Because I worked at NHS hospital in UK I had to take out a union grievance and go thru meetings with my manager and then in front of CEO. Almost didn’t go thru with it as the union rep would only ask for a training bonus which I thought was pointless. It was only when we got in front of the CEO and he asked me directly what I wanted to achieve in the meeting that I was able to state my case for matching salary. After about 10 mins deliberations he agreed to the salary and backpay. But he reamed the rep out for wasting everyone’s time with the red herring of a training bonus.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “Do some research”, the LW’s coworker was doing his research. By seeing how much the company pays for a similar role.

      How do you “research” something without asking people within the company? Just use That’s limiting yourself drastically and more harm just because you find it uncomfortable to discuss your personal salary with others.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Talk to HR, managers, and people at other companies holding similar positions in other companies, and find some generic info online. Asking co-workers what they make will only create animosity within the team.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s weak research and is just the same as going through a salary data base, it includes people who are classified incorrectly, people who don’t know what you do or what your company expects from This Role verses the Role at another corporation.

          It will not create animosity, that’s nonsense.

            1. BookishMiss*

              This is a really unkind comment. We’re allowed differences of opinion and the attendant frustration, of course, but without resorting to calling others names.

            2. Lucette Kensack*

              Um, yikes. I don’t see any “jackass” in Becky’s comment. She’s literally just disagreeing with you.

          1. Anon Accountant*

            100% agreed. It created better transparency and didn’t create animosity in my last job. It revealed some very important info about several being underpaid who were really good performers.

        2. Emily K*

          It may cause animosity, but I disagree that that’s the only possibility. I’ve worked on several teams where salaries were discussed without it causing animosity. And as other commenters have pointed out, government employees’ salaries are typically public without the local Parks & Rec department or university faculty descending into bitter animosity.

          It just requires people to be adults and take responsibility for their emotions and their careers. If two people discover that one is paid much less than the other, that shouldn’t cause hostility between the two people, because neither of them decided how much to pay the other. The underpaid person’s quarrel is with management, and they can go to management with an informed, rational case for raising their pay, or they can look for better opportunities with another employer. The only reason for the underpaid person to be angry with the better-paid person is poor emotional regulation that causes them to be so blinded with jealousy and bitterness they can’t see the objective facts of the situation (that the coworker is not the reason they are paid less and has no more power than they do to change a coworker’s pay).

          1. Dragoning*

            I agree–I would never resent my coworker for making more money. I would resent management and HR for not paying me more.

            1. AMT*

              Right, and ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss’s comment assumes that resentment is automatically a bad thing! If I’m not getting market rate for my position, or if there are unjustified pay disparities based on race, gender, or other non-skill-related factors, we *should* feel resentful and take action based on that resentment. The employer is the only one in this equation that benefits from quelling resentment.

              1. Socks*

                Yes! Yes, sometimes, being upset is the correct response to a situation. Being unjustifiably underpaid is bad, and deserves to be responded to accordingly. The problem that needs fixing isn’t “people are upset”, the problem that needs fixing is “there is a good reason for people to be upset”. Pushing the responsibility onto employees to manage each others’ feelings means that employers don’t have to deal with the underlying problem causing those feelings.

            2. MommyMD*

              I would never resent a colleague making more money than I do, but some people do. That’s the way of the world. Salary questions to me are too personal and I politely answer with I don’t discuss my salary or personal finances with anyone.

          2. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

            Indeed. This makes me glad I work for the government and one of my local newspapers publishes all the state salaries annually. No questions there about what others are making!

        3. IHaveACuteDoggie*

          Depending on how far in your career you are, you may not have those options (HR/managers at other companies)- I don’t. And besides that other company’s info has limited utility.

          I know how much some of my peers (we’re all just a few years out of school) make, but it is WILDLY different at substantially similar companies. My friend applied for technical writing positions at two orgs. Was offered 6X,000 at one place and nearly accepted. Offer at another place came in at 110,000 and he snapped it up. Only to realize that was actually the bottom of their range for the position. Another friend makes 80,000 in a similar position at a different company. These companies just clearly all have very different ranges for the same type of work. My friend that makes 110k is overpaid relative to the industry (based on my small sample size), but underpaid relative to his coworkers and there is no way he could know that without 1) finding the companies that pay similarly to his own… (somehow… not sure how you suggest doing that?) or 2) just talking to his coworkers.

        4. Natalie*

          I’m super curious what companies you’ve worked at where you could have gotten any answer from management or HR beyond “we pay market”, unless they were already committed to some level of salary transparency. That just… does not jibe with my experience at all. Leaving aside the fact that, in most companies, *other people’s* salaries are confidential, so your manager or your HR department can’t really share any information with you.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            I sure as hell am not going to reveal what my employees make to other people, friends or randos alike.

            I could get fired for that, in fact. (I’m in HR.)

        5. Observer*

          Asking co-workers what they make will only create animosity within the team.

          Actually that is only true if management is bad and / or the employees are bad. With reasonable management and coworkers, this just doesn’t happen.

          Talk to HR, managers, and people at other companies holding similar positions in other companies, and find some generic info online

          And what is HR supposed to tell you if salary information is supposed to be secret? And the only way to know if there are pay inequities within a company is to look a that company’s pay, not that of other companies.

        6. nacho*

          Similar positions in other companies often pay differently, sometimes wildly so. Point and case, I’m paid about 20-25% more than what I should be based on my research and job title. But I’m also pretty sure that the nature of my job is more stressful than the same position at a different company because of some of the specifics in our work, which is why I’m paid more. It can also be difficult if you live in a high cost of living area. There are only so many companies in your geographic location that do what you do, and you don’t want to compare yourself to somebody who pays half as much in rent as you do, because obviously you’re going to be paid more to compensate.

          1. Kat in VA*

            I can attest to this. In applying for EA positions in the greater DC Metro area, the pay varied wildly – and I do mean wildly – between $35k annually to $120k annually. Location had a bit to do with it (downtown DC was higher than, say, Manassas) but the jobs were all similar in length of time on the job, skillset required, and so forth.

    2. Anonymouse*

      I disagree on the last part, knowing how much your coworkers make is way more relevant than anonymous online data or surveys you may find. You have the same employer, so things are much more similar and easier to compare. If there are situations such as yours, you can discuss that too – that’s not a reason to stop talking about salaries entirely.

    3. Emily K*

      That just means that you don’t blindly compare salaries – you take into consideration context like what you provided here.

      This is very much like companies who don’t want to disclose a salary range for a position because they are afraid every candidate will expect the top number. In reality, they just need to be able to defend the offer – “Yes, the range was $60,000-70,000, and we offered you $65,000 because it’s your first management role but you had a very impressive track record at your last position and you have a certification in X skill along with your BA. $70,000 would have been the salary for someone with an MA and previous management experience.”

      It’s better to be transparent and prepared to give a fair explanation for how you arrived at a number than to hide information from people because you don’t think you’ll be able to defend the number you picked or you don’t think your explanation is going to sound fair or reasonable.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        But that’s assuming you’re speaking to a reasonable individual. I have spoken to co-workers in the past about my salary and why it came to be what it was, but did not disclose the actual number. I understand what’s everyone is saying here, but it doesn’t change my opinion.

        1. Emily K*

          Most people are reasonable. If you’ve seen someone prove themselves to be unreasonable, you can handle them differently. There’s no need to treat everyone as if they’re going to be unreasonable by default. People tend to live up or down to the expectations you set for them, and when you treat people like you expect them to be reasonable adults, most of the time, that’s how they’ll behave.

          If you aren’t comfortable talking about your salary on a personal level yourself, that’s perfectly fine, but don’t hold back just because you think other people won’t behave like adults if given honest information. Most people will and you should give people more credit.

        2. hbc*

          But…unreasonable people are going to be unreasonable. They’re going to guess that you make more because you went on an awesome vacation and hold that against you. They’re going to claim simultaneously that they should make more than another coworker because they’ve got seniority and that another coworker shouldn’t get more just because of more time on the job.

          As the recipient of a lot of salary complaints, I can promise you that not a single person who held company pay decisions against their coworkers was otherwise a delightful employee and coworker.

        3. pleaset*

          “But that’s assuming you’re speaking to a reasonable individual.”

          It’s not good to plan for unreasonable people. They’re gonna be unreasonable, and that’s their problem.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Yes, this! You can’t please everyone, so why please the unreasonable people?

        4. Observer*

          Well, if you treat your coworkers like their are universally immature idiots, you’re not going to see their best behavior.

          If you’re offering a good reason for not offering the top of the range and the employee is so unreasonable that they won’t hear it, then either you pull the offer of breath a sigh of relief that you dodged a bullet what that person declines. What you don’t do is use that poor excise to insure that you can keep salaries low (or inequitable) by keeping secrets.

        5. EinJungerLudendorff*

          If they’re an unreasonable person, why would you hire them in the first place?

    4. merp*

      I don’t think anyone is advocating for an approach like “but so and so makes so much more than me” as a sole reason — rather, I think the coworker asking this question is part of their research. Obviously there are always a lot of factors in a given person’s salary but that would be the same for finding avg salaries online too.

      That being said, it’s personal preference as to whether LW/anyone else would want to answer. I’m with Alison and think it was good that they did.

      1. MommyMD*

        Merp, thanks for at least allowing that it’s ok and a personal choice on whether you want to tell another employee how much money you make. Too me it’s too personal and I’m not sharing it. I understand the societal implications but it’s my own very personal information and I have seen close up the problems it can cause when other colleagues have done it. Problems that are not related to inequality.

    5. Yorick*

      You say “do some research,” but how do you do that if no one will tell you what they make?

    6. Snarkus Aurelius*

      If an employer is going to pay two employees different salaries for the same work, the onus is on the employer to explain why, not the employees. The employees didn’t make that determination.

      And if you can’t explain it in a logical, rational way, then you either rectify it or be prepared to face consequences for it.

      This isn’t any different than charging one person $5 for an apple and charging another person $50 for the same apple

      1. JSPA*

        So long as it’s not discriminating on the basis of any of several traits, you can (so far as I know) do exactly that (though food’s probably a bad example, as several foods do have minimum or maximum prices under the law, depending where you live).

        Artists certainly sometimes change prices based on “what I suspect you’re willing to pay,” and we’re told all the time to raise the quote for services if one of your clients is a headache, or you don’t really want the job unless the pay is stunning.

        1. MK*

          I understand paying different salaries for the same work is legal in the US, as long as the discrimination isn’t based on a protected class, but knowing that it is so is useful. If a store charges more for the same item, I want to know, so that I can take into account when I go shopping.

          1. TiffanyAching*

            Paying different salaries for the same work is legal at a federal level, but many states have implemented pay equity laws that allow for paying the same work differently only in limited circumstances. In my state, the pay equity law requires that any pay difference between employees doing “work of comparable character” can only be based on a few specific things, like a documented and consistent merit or seniority system, or one employee’s job requiring more education.

      2. Cordoba*

        Is a satisfactory answer something like this:
        “We were paying Person A and Person B the same amount for the same job. Then Person B said that if we didn’t pay them more they would quit. Hiring an replacement would have been time-consuming and expensive, so we paid them more. Now B makes more than A, even though they have the same resumes and job duties.”

        If B does this and shakes loose some more money, is it incumbent upon the company to give that same amount of money to A as well?

        1. Antilles*

          No, but if you’re in a situation where that would be your answer, you’ve probably got bigger issues.
          Employees don’t pull a “give me more salary or I quit” if they’re happy, well-managed, and making industry-competitive salaries – employees only play that card if they’re either (a) unhappy and hoping more money will make them not hate the job as much or (b) your salaries aren’t even remotely in line with what other companies are offering.

        2. I Took A Mint*

          It’s not incumbent upon them, but then if A and B discuss salary and A goes to management and says “Hey you pay B more than me even though we do the same work.” That’s a fair argument. A could even say “pay me the same as B or I quit” and then you have the same situation.

          So I think the real issue with your example is “should people be paid the same if they do the same work” but “don’t give raises only to people who demand them or threaten to leave”.

    7. JSPA*

      But…you’re not being asked to post raw numbers online. If you’re talking to someone, surely you can also explain that there are special circumstances in your case. They presumably wanted someone not only “already present” but someone they knew well, trusted thoroughly, knew they could hit the ground at full speed, would bring the mindset and breadth of experience from having worked in the other position as well (etc etc etc). If you are mentally underselling yourself and therefore feeling that others will automatically be ticked off at your luck, give yourself more credit for what you brought, in that lateral move. Also, nothing stops you from saying, “the average here is around X, but in some very special circumstances it can go at least high as Y, or start as low as Z, possibly lower.” You don’t have to say that you’re the “special circumstance,” if you don’t want to. After all, if it’s worth their while to pay you the extra, it might occasionally be worth their while to do it to retain another good worker, too.

    8. TML*

      Anonymous online salary data is often wrong. Not exactly known to be a reputable source of information. And when discussing internal equity, where in the market your company positions its pay structures is far more important than what other companies pay. I am HR for a small company (75 ees), and due to budget constraints we pay below market. I really wish we didn’t (recruiting would be SO much easier!), but it is what it is. NOBODY is at market, from the person answering the phone to department managers to the CEO. In our case, is an employee were to talk to a coworker about pay, they’d feel a lot better than if they went to a crowd-sourcing website.

    9. TootsNYC*

      I’m in the “don’t discuss salary” camp. . . .If you feel you deserve more money, do some research and talk to your manager.

      Pray tell, what would that research be?

      1. Observer*

        Nothing useful. I don’t know what their deal is, but the insistence that adults are not capable of dealing with salary info, dismissal of the real issues of pay inequity, and contradictory statements about preparing for salary discussion with employers, is just very weird to me.

    10. AMT*

      In Sweden, anyone can easily request anyone else’s tax returns and therefore their salary information (though not anonymously). As far as I know, Sweden hasn’t descended into chaos and bloodshed yet.

      1. Another comp professional*

        I had forgotten that Sweden effectively has complete pay transparency.

      2. MommyMD*

        I can’t think of a single reason I’d ever request anyone else’s tax forms unless you’re dealing with a divorce settlement or you have a judgment against someone who owes you money. Curiosity is not enough.

    11. Mike C.*

      But you could have explained the difference the same way you explained it here – “I was hired at a hirer wage for a different job and was moved over here without a demotion”.

      And even then, that’s a really, really rare situation.

    12. Rhymes with Mitochondria*

      If discussions about salary “only create animosity” you need to understand that the animosity is caused *by the salary inequities* not by bringing it out into the open.
      What you are suggesting is the equivalent of “we don’t talk about how Aunt Suzy beats her kids because it really makes family dinner a bummer.”
      The problem isn’t the conversation about it. The problem is the abuse.

    13. Observer*

      If you feel you deserve more money, do some research and talk to your manager.

      Well, part of that research is finding out what others make.

      Discussing salary between 2 employees only leads to disaster for one or both

      That’s a factually incorrect statement. As many people have pointed out it’s been a very useful tool for them.

      If an employer is doing salaries fairly and equitably, then there is no reason for it to be a disaster. In your case, it should have been clear that you were an outlier, which itself would lead people to realize that there might be special circumstances. Even if not, the boss should be able to explain what happened. If they can’t, or employees don’t believe management, that’s a pretty good sign that pay decisions are NOT fair and equitable.

    14. Green Great Dragon*

      We had a situation where, because someone f’d up, a small sector of the company leapfrogged a different small sector of the company for no good reason. It was noticed and people complained, but it was a relatively small amount… and anyway the point is even when the reason was ‘a mistake’ there was no disaster and no bad feeling between employees. If a company can’t convincingly claim a difference depends on experience/skills/performance then they probably should sort out a decent pay system.

    15. Drm*

      I had an incident many years ago, where salaries got out and this woman who’d been working there for many years-like 10- was grossly underpaid. She was almost at the bottom of the salary range. It was very sad but I was happy it came out because the hospital did increase her pay. The thing is in my field, there shouldn’t be such a discrepancy. Our pay is mostly years based.

    16. Princesa Zelda*

      For what it’s worth, my coworker Fergus is in a similar position and makes $3/hr more than anyone else in our department (I work in retail), and nobody begrudges him at all because we understand *why* he makes more — and any anger we have about pay is absolutely management-directed, not Fergus-directed.

    17. MommyMD*

      I don’t discuss my salary with anyone. Not family, friends, colleagues or anyone at work. I feel like it’s a very personal thing and no one’s business. I also have never once in my life asked anyone how much they make. I understand the inequities around salary but I would not be comfortable discussing it with anyone at work.

    18. Save One Day at a Time*

      Part of doing research is…. figuring out what other people make for the same work

    19. TardyTardis*

      Yeah, I had that happen–did a step down for health reasons and filling a needed spot (employee quit), was told I’d keep the same pay…ha ha ha ha ha!

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You were right to share with your colleague your salary, especially since you found out he was being paid so vastly different.

    It could be a company thing, where nobody gets raises and are stuck at their starting wage. Or their increases are so pitiful that a new hire can be so much higher.

    You say you have more experience with your 5 years seniority on him [in general, not the company itself], so that is usually a reason for a difference. However do you have the same schooling? If you have a higher degree, that can also boost a salary. If you have a masters and he only has a BA? Or he has a BA in something not relevant to your job and yours is in your industry, that may tip the scale a bit too. Even then though, 20% is a huge gap that needs to be spoken about, it will depend on the pay band as well of course.

    It can also be that he’s in a different division as well, each one may have a different pay scale and budget, depending on how lucrative they are.

    I’m happy that we’re getting to the point of just asking each other point blank what we make and going from there.

    1. Samwise*

      This sort of thing happens at colleges and universities. Salary compression. My spouse (a tenured faculty member) has gotten raises to address this along with other sorts of raises.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m glad they addressed the issue!

        It makes me wonder though, do they have it set up to do salary review so that they can catch this before it’s been years down the line or is it only when a facility member brings up their own pay gap, that then triggers a deeper look and appropriate raises?

        We review salaries every year with annual reviews, including what we’re currently paying new hires so that we know pretty quickly if someone is getting left behind.

    2. MommyMD*

      I don’t think twenty percent is way off if another individual has more experience, a job-related degree, performs better, etc.

  8. Treecat*

    It makes me so mad that this kind of discussion is so taboo–as Allison pointed out, it’s only of benefit to the employers. I am a state employee and my coworkers and I can look up each other’s salaries and compare, and believe me, we do. Nobody seems to think it’s weird and it definitely helps us keep our salaries consistent with our rank, experience, education, and seniority. Of course it only confirms in our case that we’re all severely underpaid (sigh), but it does prevent situations like the one the LW described, which I think is a benefit.

  9. Bedalia92*

    When LW’s coworker does go to negotiate, is it okay to use LW’s name (assuming she had said that was okay) or are you supposed to be discreet, i.e. “I heard other people were making $X range.” ? Is there a hard and fast rule for how you handle this information once you have it?

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think you be as discreet as you can. Your colleague bucked a huge amount of pressure to give you that info–don’t throw them under the bus.

    2. Koala dreams*

      There is some more discussion of that in one of the links above:

      I’ve always heard the rule to never directly compare with your coworker’s salary when discussing a raise, but instead focus on your accomplishments (managing more people or doing higher level work). Even if you don’t outright say “My collegue get X so I should too” it’s still useful to know, so you have some idea what you want to ask for.

    3. Anonym*

      I heard wise advice from a very senior manager at my company who shared her experience of finding out that an underperforming peer made significantly more than her. She went to the boss and essentially said, “So I understand Bob makes X. Now I know what the market rate is for this position.” No apologies, no explanations, just laying down the obvious implication of what that gap means – she now knows she can make that much elsewhere and they need to fix it or she’s gone. She also gave them a realistic amount of time to fix it (knowing salary adjustments take months at this org regardless), and they did.

      Now it’s not going to apply to every situation like this, and some managers will fixate on “how did you find out” but smart managers will realize what the conversation means and that they need to focus on resolving the problem. People talk, stuff happens, salaries will be shared sometimes. Do you try to keep a good employee, or do you berate them over meaningless details as they waltz out the door?

    4. DKMA*

      It really depends. In the OPs context (large company, not working in exact function), the OPs coworkers likely was just looking for confirmation that their facts are right and data points to target specific dollar values.

      HR and the company know what they are paying other people, if the coworker goes and says “I know I’m being paid under the market rate, including what people make internally. I’ve been here for a long time and have a track record of success like X, Y, Z recent examples. How can we find a way to bring me up to around $X (where X is 10% higher than OPs salary) so that I’m appropriately compensated?”

      Having a specific colleague who is willing to be on the record can be helpful if you get hardball questions back, but being vague but firm is likely the better option…as long as you are sure you are right.

  10. Justin*

    Absolutely be open. I even feel weird saying it out loud to my friends (we’re all at varying levels considering our apartments and other things), or my college classmates (because they’re all much higher), etc.

    We need to end this taboo.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      See, we talk about student loan debt a lot in my friend’s circle because ten years plus some since they’ve graduated and their debts give me hives thinking about them. So it is just natural to then let it be known what you’re making in regards to that.

      But a lot of people don’t speak about that struggle either, which I can understand. A lot of us are conditioned to feel shame about debt and money. It’s part of a system put into place to keep poor people poor and out of the rich folks riches.

      1. Justin*

        I basically need a better friend’s circle where I’m kinda comfortable really being direct. It’s a shame, we could all do much better.

        1. Justin*

          (Not financially I mean in supporting each other), but my wife is very “we all need to be private.”

          Anyway. Good for you for being able to have these conversations.

  11. JJ*

    I’m glad to see you were willing to share your salary info. I work for the federal government- Being paid to a published salary schedule, we all know about what everyone else makes. I think that transparency is great. When someone outside of work asks me what I make I’m always willing to share. I guess having that transparency in work makes it less taboo for me. It just never seems like a big deal.

    With all the secrecy around salary info, that give management too much power.

    1. GreenDoor*

      I work in public education so everyone knows what everyone else makes. We also publish the race of the employee beside their salary so the diversity of our workforce is transparent, too. Sure there are frequently the “how on earth did she get that job??” or “why are they paying that position so much/little” kinds of questions, but any animosity is directed at the compensation team in HR who researches and recommends the salary levels. Not at the individual employee. It’s also a district-wide rule that salaries are not negotiated. The offer is based on the pay grade + a formula for your years of experience in that specific role. Take it or leave it. So there’s not even a question of someone negotatiating a better deal than a peer.

      1. jeannie*

        Whoa, your district publishes the race of the employee beside their salary? How is the employee’s race determined–self-reported? I’m a mixed person who passes more for one of my “halves” than the other so I’m so curious about this.

      2. Save One Day at a Time*

        Our salary scales are posted on the district website as well — there’s a chart for the number of years worked and number of days you work a year, if you know that info about someone, you could figure that out pretty easily.

    2. J.*

      I’m not in the federal government but our union contract works in a similar way, and I think it’s so helpful to know I don’t have to worry if I’m being underpaid or feel weird about talking about salary. Everyone at my step and job title makes the same, and we all talk about it freely.

      Whenever there’s a salary post here, I feel a huge amount of relief that I don’t have to play those guessing games anymore.

  12. MayLou*

    I find this sort of thing fascinating because all my experience of work has been where salary is a matter of public record, at least if you know which publicly-advertised pay scale is used (and it’s generally fairly easy to figure out). Then I realised that this is because for me, the public sector is the norm. And the public sector is a lot smaller proportionately in the USA. A lot more things suddenly make sense now! The majority of people in the UK work in the public sector or third sector, which use the same pay scales. I’d imagine this means that private sector jobs use public sector models as a pattern.

    1. TK*

      The majority of people in the UK work in government or for non-profits (which is what Google tells me the “third sector” is)? Is this largely because all health care in the UK is in the public sector? That’s the only reason that statistic doesn’t seem crazy to me, but I’d still want a citation. And the government mandates pay scales for employees at non-profits there?? How does that even work, with the wide variance in duties and structures of organizations?

      1. MK*

        I don’t think it’s mandatory, just a usual practice. Also, consider ING how varied government jobs and duties are, I wouldn’t think it’s so difficult to find comparable government positions to base the salaries.

      2. Annisele*

        I’m not sure it’s quite true that the majority of Brits work for government or for charities. There’s a Guardian article at which suggests the public sector accounts for about 16.5%, and I doubt charities make up anywhere close to that.

        I work for a quango. (I’m not sure if that’s a UK specific term, but in case it’s unfamiliar to US readers it means a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation – basically a thing that is pretty close to being public sector, and could have been actually public sector if government had decided to organise things a bit differently). Our salaries are linked to public sector salaries, but that actually works quite easily. My employer picks a point on a public sector scale, and we’re paid some percentage of that salary. Eg if we link to a civil service teapot maker who earns £x, our CEO will get 250% of £x, whereas the guy in the post room might get 30% of £x.

        1. MayLou*

          Yes, it was lazy wording for me to say that the majority of people work in the public or charity sector – obviously the private sector provides a larger percentage of jobs. It would be more accurate to say that most people will have worked in the public or charity sector at some point in their career, but that’s harder to cite statistics for. The third sector makes up about 3% of jobs, public sector is around 25-30% (the Office of National Statistics has loads and loads of data and it’s a fascinating rabbit hole I am trying to avoid diving down!) and as Annilese mentions, there are lots of quangos. I believe organisations which receive public funding are held to certain standards which mirror how public organisations operate, for instance the BBC, ITV and other media outlets that are partially funded by the TV licence fee.

          It’s less that the government mandates salaries, more that charities choose to use an existing scale based on public sector roles. I think this is to do with how UK society functions generally – there’s more expectation of things being centrally managed and of fairness being legislated for. Not everyone likes that, but it’s how we’ve done things since at least the end of WWII so that perfuses expectations and consequently influences practices.

      3. Bagpuss*

        I don’t think it’s true that the majority of people in the UK work in those sectors (& these days, a lot of people who work in the public sector don’t work *for* public bodies, a lot of jobs are contracted out to private companies)

        I think that while some larger organisations in the private sector may have pay grades, it’s not common in the private sector in general, and I think is generally more flexible than public sector grading.

        1. MayLou*

          I’m now wondering whether I’m in some kind of weird public-sector bubble, because thinking about my social circle (and it’s pretty large), I’m struggling to identify more than a handful of people who aren’t either self-employed or working in the public/third sector. I have one friend who is an accountant and a few who are lawyers, a handful in retail, and one in insurance. That’s it, out of hundreds of people. Where are all the private sector workers?! Why don’t I know any?

          1. Annisele*

            In the UK, the distribution of public sector/private sector jobs tends to be somewhat geographical. You’ll get some areas where the only major employers are the council and the hospital, with a very high proportion of the rest being teachers or similar. If you’re in an area like that, that’s a plausible explanation for your friend group. But if you’re in London, no idea :).

            1. MayLou*

              That makes sense – I’m in a fairly economically flattened area (the main non-public-sector employment round here would be tourism, and that’s pretty seasonal). I do know there is some light industry, and I see people from the local industrial estate catching the bus home in the evening, so that’s a private sector employer I guess. I’d love to see a map of this data somewhere – what sectors, what population of what demographics, average salary etc.

  13. Cordoba*

    I’m an advocate for open pay information and will happily share my salary with anybody who asks. I’m also not shy about asking people what they make. The more we compare notes on this sort of thing the easier it becomes to identify and correct unfair pay practices.

    I take the approach that “the way to do it” is to bring it up and discuss it like you would any other regular question, like asking if somebody enjoyed their vacation or if they know who is working on the Jenkins account. Every time you don’t approach salary information it like it’s a big terrible taboo secret you chip away at the perception that it is.

    The “never share compensation information” mindset is promoted by employers because they *know* it works to their advantage.

    LW did nothing wrong. Her colleague might have been shocked or hurt in the moment to find out how much less he makes by comparison, but long term he benefits because he has additional firsthand trustworthy data to evaluate his own market value and make a case for better pay. That’s exactly how this is supposed to work.

    1. SansaStark*

      I feel exactly the same. Because of 2 co-workers I was able to get another 10K on top of an offered promotion and raise. I was essentially low-balled by 10-freaking-K which is an enormous amount at my salary and I wouldn’t have known about it if 2 coworkers hadn’t told me what their salary was. I have another coworker (also female) up for a similar promotion and I’ve been very candid about my promotion and subsequent salary with her.

  14. 867-5309*

    When I was promoted at a marketing agency from VP to SVP, the pay bump was much lower than I expected (I am a woman). I asked a close friend to tell me his salary range but he was concerned about doing so. However, when I told him my salary, he was shocked. I then said the range I was planning to request and he said it was well within the band. I made my case and got the raise I wanted.

    1. Bostonian*

      This highlights a great way to get the info you need without directly asking what someone else makes. The other option is always, “If I were to ask for X, does that sound too high or too low?”

  15. Fiddlesticks*

    Every time I read a post on this topic, it makes me feel so weird that it’s not something I’ve ever been able to care about (because it wouldn’t do any good!) – and also feel like paranoia and misplaced privacy concerns must be the rule at all private companies.

    I’ve worked in government for 30 years. My salary and those of all my coworkers have always been available to anyone and everyone who wants to know, both on government websites and through direct public information requests. No one gets in trouble for discussing salary, or raises, or responsibilities-vs-pay scale, and no one can successfully lie about what he/she makes. As a result of this transparency, blatant unfairness and illegal discrimination are harder to get away with. Why wouldn’t everyone want this??

    Personally, I think everyone’s salaries and tax returns should be public information (are you listening, Mr. President?), but I realize I’m probably in a tiny minority on this one.

    1. Tableau Wizard*

      Professionally, I agree with you.

      Personally, I don’t want everyone in my family/personal life to know how much my husband and I make because if we decide that we can’t afford something, I don’t want someone else to decide that they don’t agree. We get to set our own budget and if we’re more conservative with our larger pot of money than you are, that’s not my problem…. That’s the only reason I don’t tell my family how much I make.

      1. Asenath*

        In my experience, it doesn’t come up much. My longest jobs have been in government or related groups with contracts and pay scales readily available to the public, so anyone can pretty much guess your salary and come pretty close (might not know just where you are in the band, though). At my level, people never bother to look this stuff up! In one of my earlier jobs, people who weren’t in the field assumed we all earned a fortune – but never bothered to get correct information. In general, we were decently paid, I think, but, as a co-worker who helped people do their taxes discovered, some of those who complained the loudest about our publicly-funded salaries actually earned a good bit more in private industry.

        So – mostly people outside the system don’t bother to look up the salary information (although they often complain about our imagined wealth); people inside the system are of course familiar with the salaries but it’s such commonplace information it’s not worth gossiping about. And generally, it would be considered very rude to ask specific financial details – how much do you earn, what did you pay for your house, what do you have put away for retirement or spend on your last vacation. Of course, some people ask anyway. Money can be a tricky issue to deal with socially.

        1. RandomU...*

          No, the inside people just turn to gossiping about how much the spouse of the gov’t employee makes.

          According to my city government husband’s coworkers we’re billionaires!!!

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Regarding the personal aspect, that’s when you have to learn to be comfortable telling people they don’t get to dictate what you can “afford” and not afford. It’s not about the balance in your account or your wages, it’s about what fits your personal priorities.

        I see this all the time. Yes, I can physically afford that $200 car payment to get a new car if it was important to me. It’s not at all, therefore I don’t purchase a new car. Yes I could pay for a fancy dinner at the fanciest fancy place on Friday night but no, I do not choose to go there because it’s not what I want to spend my money on.

        My parents taught me this though. They were the savers and the misers of the family. Guess who everyone tries to “borrow” money from because they can “afford” it? Guess how many times they’ve loaned anyone money? One time. The answer is one time and it was only after a small inheritance and they were willing to lose the money if necessary.

        It’s all about keeping control of your own universe. Easier said than done in some cases but if you have to hide things from your family or friends because of how they react to the knowledge, you have a pretty toxic bad personal network issue as well.

      3. Lepidoptera*

        OMG I can only imagine my deadbeat sibling crawling out of his stupor long enough to look up my salary and proclaim how much I can afford to give him. You are so right on this!

      4. Natalie*

        if we decide that we can’t afford something, I don’t want someone else to decide that they don’t agree.

        I have never found this type of person to be stopped by not having one particular fact. If they want to judge you so much, they’ll decide they know regardless.

      5. MommyMD*

        Agree TW. No one needs to know my budget or how much comes in or goes out. And I don’t need to know theirs.

      6. Emily K*

        I’m in my mid 30s and a lot of my friends have only recently hit 30, so I’ve always made more than most of them because I started on a professional track years before they found their first professional jobs. I’ve always been open about what I earn because I wanted them to have information on their job searches/salary negotiations that I didn’t have when I was in their position. I wanted them to be in a better position than I was to know what to say when an employer asks for salary requirements and how much they should hold out for and when to negotiate for more.

        Maybe because I live in the DC area with its high cost of living, but my friends understand that I can make a lot more money than they do AND also still need to follow a budget. Nobody has ever tried to argue with me when I say I can’t afford to do X or criticized me for buying Y when I can’t afford Z. They respect that I’ve made choices about what things are important to me, that I’d rather have a car than go out a lot, that I wanted to live alone instead of having roommates even if it eats up a lot of my budget, that I choose to save as much as I can for emergencies, that I’ve sometimes had to drain my savings to pay for an emergency and then don’t want to spend money on anything discretionary for a while, but might still splurge on a movie even when I’m trying hard to limit my spending because I’m not a monk. It’s my salary to spend how I choose and I’ve never had any issue with my friends thinking that because I’ve shared a number with them that somehow gives them the right to have an opinion about my budget.

      7. Kat in VA*

        Seconded. Certain family members pestered me about combined income and when I finally relented and told them, the flood of “You should pay for me to _________, you can afford it!” has been relentless. Just because I can afford ______ doesn’t mean I want to, you know? The most recent was my mom hassling me to put money toward a car for my brother, who is over the age of 50 and known to make bad decisions. No, Mom. Just…no.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      See it’s never been something I’ve had to think about much in terms of myself either. I’ve always been within payroll, every single job I’ve known exactly how much everyone made. There was no pay issues anywhere, not even between a son who was working for his father, he got paid the same amount as everyone else within his job duties.

      So it’s fascinating to me to read deeper into it and seeing where others are coming from. I have always been in a very transparent atmosphere, everyone discusses everything right down to the bonuses.

      That’s because it’s small business of course, where you cannot hide things easily or put a gag in anyone’s mouth because we’re just going to spit it out and laugh at you for trying.

    3. RandomU...*

      This idea starts to fall apart when it comes to merit increases and bonus money.

      I think I mentioned this the last time this topic came up, but I can’t imagine a bigger nightmare than having to field the questions from employees… “Why did so and so get a bigger increase than me?” Often times it comes down to performance ratings. That’s going to be great for morale… Sorry Suzy, you’re an average employee meeting expectations, but your coworker Wakeen over there is a super star who is lighting the world on fire. Or the flipside… “Why did Bob get an x% raise… He’s the worst. It’s only because he has an easy manager and stupid goals to reach”

      At least at my company merit increase amounts also has to do with whatever random thing our HR/Compensation group wants to correct.

      So an employee who received a better than average rating might get an average MI if they are nearing the top of their band. They might also use it to adjust up a newer employee if they realize that $ amounts in a team are out of whack for whatever reason (typically this happens during reorgs and lateral transfers).

      1. MK*

        Morale should not be based on making your employees think they are better than they are. X being a superstar is a great reason for them being paid more; and you don’t need to insult the more mediocre people when explaining that. Nor do you have to answer for what other managers choose to pay their employees.

        1. RandomU...*

          I have seen grown adults almost come to blows over the use of their favorite company owned spoon in the break room. Sorry if I don’t have a lot of faith in the average adult’s capacity to recognize ‘fair’ in terms of contribution and performance.

          1. Observer*

            Well, the solution is not secrecy. If for no other reason that it really doesn’t work. The idiot who thinks he’s a superstar is always going to see something that the superstar is getting the he’s not and he’s NOT going to take the explanation any better whether it’s about money or not.

            1. MommyMD*

              There’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. An employee can practice privacy. Secrecy is something that rests with the company.

          2. MommyMD*

            Yes, RandomU. Spot on. There are so many tangible and intangible variables to salary that I’m not getting into the fray. Especially when I see the things people get upset over, such as the spoon.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        If there are morale issues due to paying a superstar more than a mediocre then you have bad employees.

        The higher pay should be an incentive for higher performance. A rational person knows that.

        Show the lower performer what they need to do to get the higher rating. That’s your job. Then help them get there. That’s your job. And if they don’t perform? Explain it. That’s your job.

      3. Mike C.*

        So long as those are based on legitimate and specific business criteria, there shouldn’t be an issue. If you have rubrics for how much a position is paid (specific enough that anyone could look at the rules and come up with roughly the same number) then this is easy.

    4. Rez123*

      Where I’m from tax information is public and all the yellow papers once a year do a big expose on how much all celebrities make and then it publishes list of the richest people on each county. For us regular folks that don’t make it to the list, we can call the tax office and get the info.

      1. RandomU...*

        Oh this sounds terrible. Like Tableau Wizard, the only people who need to have access to my salary is my husband and anyone I chose to share it with.

        No way do I want that public.

        1. Emily K*

          Seriously, as a former student I’m low key salivating at the idea of having access to that kind of robust dataset.

    5. Tau*

      I’ll join you in the minority. My first job was somewhere where your salary was effectively public (it was public information what each salary grade was earning and the criteria for advancing from one grade to another were a) very clear and b) mainly based on years of experience until the highest grades, so it was very easy to work out what grade people were at). My new job is more of the traditional, we-could-not-possibly-talk-about-money sort and it drives me absolutely bananas.

  16. Tableau Wizard*

    I once offered to share with a coworker what I make. She and I were in different roles on the same team, but she had grown her role a lot from the time she started with the org. She was fighting our boss to reclassify her position and give her a raise, but the boss was telling her it wasn’t in the budget.

    She shared with me what she was making and I let her know I was making nearly double that. Having that information was the kick she needed to look for other jobs and fight for her worth. She found a lateral transfer and was able to use market analysis for the new role to get a higher compensation. I felt terrible for her, but I’m glad I gave her that information.

  17. Rez123*

    I’m awkward talking about money and I wish I was better at it. I’m so happy you shared the information. It’s really impossible to know how much to ask. I recently did some research when I had to put a salary request in a job a application apparently my position pays between $18k-150k according to several online sources. So yeah, pure guess work.

    I have a terrible pay (public sector) but at least all our pay is from a table and public information so we know we cannot be over or underpaid. Also in my previous workplaces the salary has been checked form a graph that includes work experience, education and requirements of the job. That graph gives a range and then the rest is up to negotiation. I think majority of companies have something similar but they choose not to use it.

  18. Aurion*

    I feel like the secrecy around pay between colleagues is an extension of the social and cultural expectation to not talk about money (because the latter almost always ends up being judgy). I’m Asian and it’s extremely common to have parents/extended family frankly ask “so how much do you make/pay?” and also get up in your business a little about it, whether that’s “wow you’re loaded” or “how little?!” or anything in between. Factor in different personal circumstances and debts and what have you and it’s just much, much easier for friends and family to not talk about money, because I don’t want to defend/explain anything about my finances. I think that mindset extends to coworkers, whom I’m friendly with, but not friends, and therefore I’d like it even less for them to be knowledgeable/up in my business about with my finances.

    But having public salary bands like government would be a good middle ground though. Everyone knows what everyone makes, but I don’t have to (and don’t want to) have A Conversation about it.

  19. StillWorkingOnACleverName*

    I found out at one job that my assistant was making almost $10,000 more than I was. I mentioned it to a coworker, who mentioned to the boss that I was upset about it. The boss called me in and brought my salary above my assistant’s (because I was going to quit over it), but he also wrote me up for discussing salary. He told me he was paying her more because she was a single mother of two and since I didn’t have a spouse or kids he felt the discrepancy was fair. I didn’t stay long in that job, or industry, after that.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      What year was this in? It sounds so much like the horror stories from the 70’s. Where married men had families to care for! Whereas women were working only to support themselves, so let’s throw them just some droppings to scrape by with.

      I’m scared you’re going to say it was recent.

      1. Rebecca*

        I ran into the “man with family” thing in the late 1990’s. Privately held company, threatened us with firing if we discussed salary, if the word “union” was mentioned, things like that. I overheard a male colleague in a cube nearby giving his salary to the bank when applying for a loan, I told my manager that I overheard, said I was being paid over $10K less for the same job, and that was the answer. And I was told not to tell anyone else or I’d be fired. At the time, I was carrying the health insurance and was the main breadwinner for my family. Now I wish I would have stood up, but at the time, I was young and scared.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          You’ve ran through the statues of limitations of course but PSA to everyone out there, depending on your area, you may have up to 3 years to fight pay discrimination. 3 years from your last check with the company at the low rate.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*


      That is absolutely gender discrimination, just in the opposite way we typically see it. No one should be paid based on their obligations, it should be based on their experience and skills.

    3. Important Moi*

      Single people with no children are oft thought of as not having responsibilities and “easier” lives, so therefore it’s OK to …..

      -pay them less
      -give them less schedule flexibility (i.e. leave early , vacation scheduling)
      -move their work schedule
      etc., etc.

      1. Rhymes with Mitochondria*

        Yep. It’s happening to my daughter right now. She’s been there 5 years and gets paid less than men hired last summer. And is expected to cover more evenings/weekends so he can be home with kids. Maddening.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          When I read these comments I can’t help but shake my head in sadness. I’ve worked in sales my entire life and every position I’ve had has either had a monthly recap where we went over sales and could calculate everyone else’s commissions or we just openly discussed our salaries because it was an ego thing. While sales is tough, it’s a pretty fair meritocracy that usually doesn’t have much gender bias (at least in my experience). It’s close deals or get whacked. I can’t fathom working at a place that would pay you based on some arbitrary thing like single mom means more money or man supporting family means single person gets the short stick.

  20. bubba g*

    As I am a public school certificated employee, my salary is a public record. It’s nice because there is no secrecy, and our pay is determined by column and step increases, with additional pay for advanced degrees.

    I think it would be very difficult to know what my salary would/should be if it weren’t transparent.

    When my students ask me my salary, I tell them what it is ($114, 028 per year, with me paying most of my health insurance – district kicks in a few hundred dollars a month, but my healthcare for one person is $700 per month). I also get 10 sick days per year, which can be banked, 7 of which can be used for personal reasons). I am at the very top of my salary schedule. I have an MA and 34 years experience.

  21. Drax*

    I actually wonder if some of this weirdness is related to you making so much more then him.

    So I too believe in salary disclosure and not being taboo and being able to talk about it, but one time I was out with friends and we were talking about salary and they were all open about what they were making. Two of them had been working about 5-6 years more in their chosen line of work then I have in mine, but my salary was $10-15 000 more then all of the people at that table. Part of it is my chosen career path – you make way more being in operations then lower level admin just based on requirements of the job, but man oh man did I feel uncomfortable talking about it after that. I copped out and ended up saying “oh yeah around there” and not giving any number.

    There’s an added personal level of awkwardness knowing you make so much more then other people. But how else does he know he’s being underpaid without factual discussion. It’s a very awkward conversation but rather beneficial.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I totally get where you’re coming from with this. As the person who’s been working within a career path for about ten years longer than most of my friends who only recently were able to find work with the rebounding economy.

      I won’t lie, it’s lead to me picking up the tab a few more times because I know what their income is.

      1. Drax*

        Oh 100% I do that, and never follow up with them when we order something and they’ll ‘pay me back’ and hope they forget about it.

      2. Llellayena*

        Yeah, this. I have a group of friends who make considerably less than me (disability, retail and service industries) and I was telling one of them about FreeFile tax services.
        Him: Would I qualify for that?
        Me: I know you would because I do.
        Him: Wait, how do you know I make less than you?
        Me: I make $X
        Him: Oh. Ok, so FreeFile…
        And yes, I do pick up a tab for them sometimes, but not everyone at once. I’ll cover one person if they’re shy that day. They’re never upset that I make more than them, I just adjust my spending to their level when I’m out with them.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Our tab for a group of four is around $75, so I pick it up all because I can. They always order like they’re paying for themselves, so it’s not that they cannot afford it, it’s that I treat because I can. It’s that kind of like when you go out to eat with coworkers, the most senior tends to pick up the tab mentality. Or in my mother’s case, she pays always because she’s the mom, despite me making more than she does.

          This only works if you have people in your life that don’t take advantage or have some weird misconception that you owe them things because you “made it out of the trailer park first”. I don’t keep bad company around very long, needless to say.

          I also had to run out of a bar awhile back because I was getting too loose with my purse strings and almost bought a round of birthday drinks for someone in the bar. So I may or may not be too generous at times, it depends on who you want to ask at any given time.

  22. Ugh.*

    I’ll never forget when I went to a symposium and my ex-company made my colleague and I share a hotel room. Late at night we were talking about how hard it is to get by in our high COL city and a comment she said made me realize that she was being paid 25% lower than me – even though we were doing the exact same job AND she had more education than me. The next week she took the info to management, who gave her a raise to match her salary but then we both got a warning to never share our salary information with each other again.

  23. Completely Anonymous for This Post*

    Speaking as a compensation professional with decades experience: simply comparing salaries is not enough, though. Do these two work in the same geography, or does the higher paid employee work in San Francisco and the lower paid employee work in Tulsa? What do performance appraisals look like for the lower paid employee? It’s all about the context.

    I favor pay translucency: post salary ranges, but not don’t publish individual salaries (and continue to respect all the laws about permitting individuals to discuss their rates). To understand my rate of pay, you’d need to know my level of experience and my performance appraisals. You can find out about my experience on LinkedIn, but I don’t want to share my appraisals with anyone.

    1. Doc in a Box*

      Published paybands is what my field (academic medicine) does. I know the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles for my specialty and academic rank. It was very helpful in negotiating for my first job out of training.

    2. TiffanyAching*

      I think this comes with the small caveat of some employers have more strictly laid out compensation structures than others. Mine, for example, has only the bare bones and is in the middle of a pay analysis and building actual pay bands for jobs, so just posting salary ranges would be pretty useless at this point in the game. We also don’t have any kind of pay for performance system, so merit raises are sporadic, at the discretion of the manager and budget of the department. You could have two employees doing the exact same thing, for the same amount of time, in different departments, with the same performance metrics, and one could be paid significantly higher just because that department had more wiggle room in the budget.

    3. Another comp professional*

      And don’t assume everyone in a more senior role should get paid more than everyone in a more junior role. A newly promoted manager could often be paid less than a seasoned professional non-manager. That doesn’t sound like it’s the case here but salaries are understandably a sensitive topic and false assumptions can muddy the water.
      Also when your colleague raises their salary concerns they will be much better focusing on why they consider their salary to be too low than complaining that someone else is paid $x. If their manager flat denies it then it’s reasonable to say I know of recent hires who have been paid 25% more but even then names don’t add much to the conversation and make it sound like the complaint is the other person is paid too much. No decent manager is going to discuss with you the detailed rationale for another employee’s salary, they should be willing to discuss what you would need to do for them to increase your salary.

  24. Natalie*

    Check your state laws as well, if you’re concerned about fallout from your employer! States can have greater protections than the NLRA – my state, as an example, protects all employees’ right to disclose their own wage, including management, and requires that employer include notice of that right in their handbook (which isn’t commonly observed, in my opinion).

    1. Becky*

      Though as I understand it, a company can legally prohibit salary/compensation talk on the premises.

      Alison–is this correct?

        1. Courageous cat*

          Oh damn, I thought they could prohibit – not so much on the premises, but on the clock. I feel like there is definitely something they can prohibit on the clock but not off the clock. Maybe it’s related to unions.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Official union business does usually have to be done off the clock, but just chatting with your coworkers doesn’t become unionizing just because it’s about salary (disclaimer: not a lawyer, but in a union).

  25. JKP*

    I’m curious why the protection doesn’t cover all employees, not just non-supervisory employees? What is the rationale behind preventing managers from discussing salary?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The same reason why the FLSA doesn’t apply to everyone. Many labor laws are for very specific classifications of employees.

      Highly compensated or ranking employees have less protections, sadly it’s because the government tends to lean towards “protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged” legislature. They assume that highly compensated individuals have the means to protect themselves, be that through lawyers or networking advantages.

    2. Natalie*

      When the original act was passed it only excluded railroad and government workers (because they had their own regulations) and farm workers and domestic workers (because of racism). It was amended after an enormous series of strikes after World War II, in a very different political climate than 1935 when it was originally passed. The amendment was intended to curtail union power, and among other things supervisors were cut out of the Act’s protection.

      (Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 is the amendment if you want to read about it further.)

    3. Anonymeece*

      I honestly had no idea about the “except for management” clause to that – I’m glad I know now, but also curious about this!

  26. Allornone*

    As a grant writer at my last non-profit responsible for putting together budgets that included salary, I pretty much knew what everybody got paid. Executives were VERY comfortable, everyone else was getting scraps. And of course, I got paid the lowest (yep, pay the girl that physically brings in the most money the lowest). But they were the first people willing to pay me a steady salary for grant writing, and I was getting more experience, so I took it. I also just took another job where I make about $15,000 more (with a WAY better culture). Yay.

  27. NativeForeigner*

    I am shocked to hear that Americans cannot talk about salary. I have been told that in the US you have to disclose your salary for social reason, up to presenting: “I am Jane, auxiliary manager, I am paid 89 000 a year.”

    Where I come from it would be grossly rude to ask someone’s salary and equally gross to tell your salary. But that is only a social rule: the employer cannot forbid you telling . CEO level may be different.
    But we have no significant gender or race discrimination at least in salaries. There are also ways to get at least good estimates for your colleague’s salaries.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I have been told that in the US you have to disclose your salary for social reason, up to presenting: “I am Jane, auxiliary manager, I am paid 89 000 a year.”

      No, definitely not. That would be really odd to do here, in fact!

    2. Exceler*

      Where did you hear this? I wonder if it was something you heard out of context? And what do you mean by “social reasons”?

      1. MayLou*

        This is a stereotype I’ve encountered too – Bill Bryson, for instance, writes about the emphasis placed on how much you earn and the crass questioning at parties. I was surprised to read about it being taboo to discuss salaries since I’d absorbed the idea that Americans cared about such things (a sweeping generalisation certainly, but almost the exact opposite of it being a taboo topic).

        1. JamieS*

          Well there is sometimes an emphasis placed on wealth by some people. However that’s normally more displays of wealth (new car, big house, designer clothing items, etc.) than announcing your salary.

    3. Anonymeece*

      (American here)

      I have heard of the stereotype of Americans being much more open and willing to disclose their salary/income/cost of house/etc., and it may very well be true in some parts of the U.S., but I know that at least where I’m from, it’s grossly rude and crass to talk about things like that. You’d do best erring on the side of not asking/not telling in America when it comes to money matters.

      And I’ve never heard it being acceptable to just disclose like Jane in that example. That would be very inappropriate in almost every situation.

      1. nacho*

        I know I wouldn’t think it taboo to discuss the price of anything I own, including houses/cars/etc… and wouldn’t think twice about asking somebody else how much theirs cost, but I don’t think that would extend to asking how much they actually make.

        1. Anonymeece*

          Like I said, it’s probably very specific to area! It’s a stereotype, for instance, but I’ve heard that New Yorkers are very open to share how much they pay for an apartment because they’re hunting for a cheaper place.

          Where I live (part of the South), talking about how much you paid for your house/asking another person wouldn’t be taboo, per se, but it would be a very big faux pas and would likely get you labeled as a very crass person.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love hearing about American stereotypes, this is so fascinating! Thank you for sharing it. [This probably sounds OTT and sarcastic and that’s not my intention, I’m truly gleeful to see how we’re perceived by the world, I”m not shocked that other countries think we talk about our salaries like that sadly enough].

      It’s not true, given our many cultures intertwined over here you can find those who are very relaxed about sharing and those who wouldn’t dream of sharing their salary. Most people wear their wealth or perceived wealth more so than straight up introduce themselves with their salary. I say this as someone who lives around many luxury vehicles, more than I ever knew existed growing up in the rural US.

      1. Armchair Expert*

        Yes, I think this may be a misunderstanding around how acceptable it is to flaunt your wealth. In the UK, being flashy is considered crass, ‘new money’, and indicative that you’re non-U. Real old money people drive battered cars, wear threadbare clothes and bring a sandwich for lunch.

        I mean this isn’t really true, most of the time: there are plenty of rich people in every country who spend their money showily, and I’m sure plenty of rich USians who do not. But I think it’s where it comes from, and it’s just UK snobbishness at work.

  28. Rebecca*

    This is an issue I wish would get more press. I hear this all the time (and even from my employer) that we are not to discuss our compensation with each other, and it’s grounds for dismissal. We are non-exempt. We have posters in our workplace, as mandated, but it’s just about minimum wage, you must be paid for overtime, that type of thing. I really think another poster could be added by the labor department outlining this exact thing – that we are allowed to discuss this and we can’t be fired just for doing this one thing.

    1. Observer*

      They are actually putting that on the employee manual?

      Wow! That’s just asking for a law suit.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Honestly, never assume that the HR or whomever is in charge of a handbook knows a darn thing about the actual law. So many people are out dated or just never trained in actual regulations when it comes to labor laws.

      There’s a lot of ridiculous employee handbooks out there floating around with illegal things printed in them. Luckily for most of those companies, people aren’t actively reading them or knowledgeable about their rights. So they get away with it. They get away with enforcing them. They get away with a lot.

      I say this as someone who knows employee rights and quite a bit about the assorted regulations, not a lawyer by any means though. And saw someone fired, not that long ago, by an absolutely deranged “business owner”for reporting a workplace injury he didn’t agree with. “Oh you’re hurt eh? Then we no longer need you here!”

      Yeaaaaaaaah, it’s really upsetting to say the least! So yes, I wish this got more press and I’m glad we have places like AAM to discuss it for those who need to do their own research.

  29. Lilith*

    Tangentially, I wish public universities would get away from X% raises for all staff. That just continues to widen the pay gap. If there is, say, $200,000 in the budget just divide it equally by how ever many staff work at the uni– from custodian to president.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The pay gap isn’t about the difference between positions and roles in the company. It’s about equal or relatively equal pay for equal work. Janitorial staff is never going to make close to what a university president makes.

      It doesn’t make sense to spread out 200k equally among all staff from janitors to the administration. That’s just going to chase people away from working in academia even more so than ever.

      1. Not A Manager*

        Sure, but if the president is making $200,000 and the janitor is making $20,000, and they each get a 5% raise every year, at the end of ten years the salary gap between the president and the janitor will not be $180,000, it will be $293,000.

        (I’m having trouble finding my math hat right now, but I think this is correct.)

        1. Another comp professional*

          You are both correct, the term pay gap gets applied to a number of different things.
          – Equal pay for equal work
          – CEO pay differential (to median or lowest employee) and that is effected by the compound interest rule as you explained although in that case the pay ratio remains x10 so actually this would be a pretty fair outcome assuming they are both being paid appropriately for their jobs.
          – Gender pay (this is a UK one and includes the effect of part time working/more men in senior roles)

    2. Cordoba*

      Doesn’t it make sense to give more to the people who are better at their jobs?

      If the employer has:
      -one great custodian who routinely exceeds expectations and receives praise from other departments
      -another custodian whose work is barely adequate

      Then why wouldn’t they give a greater reward to the first person?

      If I was the all-star custodian I wouldn’t want to share a equal blanket raise with Johnny Slackabout; and trying to make this happen would be a great way to get me to find another job.

      1. Lilith*

        Sure but that doesn’t happen (generally) in a university setting. Maybe there are supervisors who argue for better pay when they see folks working better/faster. Yay when that happens.

    3. Koala dreams*

      I’m surprised to read that fixed percent increases is a thing! Wouldn’t that be potentially very damaging to disadvantaged groups? If there is a pay gap when you hire people, it would get bigger for every raise.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        COLA is commonly a fixed amount, it’s not intended to bring your wages up so much as it is to make sure you’re on pace for living increases, with rent and utilities always bumping rates.

        So a lot of places will say “we’re giving a 2% Cost of Living Adjustment this year” and then they tack on X% for merit raise and Y% for duties changing or reevaluation of salary, etc.

        Fixed rates are easier to justify and show your math with.

        Again, this is on the concept that everyone is being paid a fair market rate for their role and weren’t put at any disadvantage in the first place. That’s why you shouldn’t ever pay someone based on their former salary either, it should always be done on an internal payscale. If you find out other places are paying your Unicorn Herders more than your going rate, you retool the entire pay band based on your outside data. But you don’t base your pay increases on the idea that there’s a pay gap to begin with.

  30. Rezia*

    OP, you did good.

    I will forever owe a colleague who gave me information on her salary that revealed how much I was underpaid. I brought this information to my boss — without naming her — and just said, look, if this info is true, then I would argue I’m bringing you a lot more value than I’m being paid for, please make it right (couched in nicer language of course).

    I got a 25% raise that year.

    1. MommyMD*

      Good for you. You did it the right way. You didn’t storm into boss’s office saying Jane is getting paid more than me! Too many people would.

  31. OperaArt*

    When I was a state employee, our salaries were a matter of public record. You could even get a spreadsheet of all the names and salaries of everyone in the organization. All of the transparency made it obvious that women were paid substantially less for the same work. One lawsuit later, and the salary/raise management system was completely reworked to prevent it from happening again. Plus several women got raises to bring them in line with their peers.

    1. Sleepy Librarian*

      I work for a public university and I most definitely look up the budget every year and check the salaries. Anyone I’ve mentioned it to here sees nothing weird about it. I think our (U.S.) cultural taboo about discussing money is perpetuated by people in power to suppress those who are not being treated equitably.
      There’s an interesting Adam Ruins Everything video on this topic. It’s available on YouTube.

  32. Cordoba*

    Since skill level and value to the company is an essential component of determining compensation, or at least it should be, how do you deal with salary conversations in light of the fact that Dunning-Kruger is a real thing and people often vastly overestimate their own competence?

    In a situation where you have two employees:
    -Person A is a genuine expert in their job and is paid accordingly
    -Person B has the same job, their performance is adequate but not top 10%, and despite this they *think* that they’re a top performer

    What do you say to B when they compare salary notes and they find out that A makes 30% more? They’re acting in good faith, genuinely think they’re something special, and have significant financial and self-image reasons to persist with that belief.

    Most people are pretty resistant to accepting “you’re not nearly as good as you think you are” but in this case it’s the fundamental explanation for the discrepancy.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They don’t have to accept it, that’s not your job as a manager. You can just give them the reason behind the pay difference and they take it or leave it. They can always check with a lawyer and go down that route if they really wanted to, then you can show an attorney your formula, you can show them the performance reviews things are based off of.

      You’ll never want to bank on the idea that people need to accept what you’re telling them, they get that choice in the end. Play kind and by the rules/regulations and they can figure out their own stuff.

    2. Bagpuss*

      You can’t make someone *accept* the reasoning but you can explain to them what it is.

      If , as their manager or employer you are clear with them about their work and what they would need to do to be comparable with the better employee I think you are doing what you need to.

    3. Rainy days*

      The key is that the manager should be able explain the difference in terms of work achievements. If they can, great. If they can’t point to any difference in work, expertise, or output, that’s when you start to wonder…is it because one of them is more white, male, or even more physically attractive, taller, etc?

    4. nacho*

      Ideally, the difference in pay between A and B should be small enough that it can be explained by discussing what A does that B doesn’t. As long as B’s performance is adequate, I can’t rightfully think of a situation where A deserves a full 30% more no matter how much of an expert they are unless they’re doing so much more that it’s practically a different job. A fairer difference between adequate and expert might be 10%, at which point you could easily point to various things A knows or does that B doesn’t as a good reason without putting B down.

  33. Kira*

    I agree that OP acted very honorably, and I have always been extremely grateful to anyone who was that honest with me. So much information about careers and job search is hidden, and there’s often an information imbalance that is really rough, especially on people earlier on in their careers.

  34. PMP*

    I really hope there’s a follow up post where OP says that their colleague came back to thank them for giving him the confidence to negotiate his raise or something; fingers crossed! Keep us updated OP, you totally did the right thing.

  35. Observer*

    You are not at any *legal* risk for discussing your salary. While your position means that your company might be allowed to prohibit you from discussing your pay, they can’t sue you or anything like that.

    As for whether you did the right thing – unequivocally YES. Think about it. When you found out that you were being underpaid, wasn’t that useful, even though upsetting, information? In this case you KNOW that it’s information that will be useful to him. Helping someone to advocate for themselves when what they want (pay parity in this case) is eminently reasonable is always a good thing.

  36. Anon for this*

    I recently found out that two of my coworkers are making $30k+ more than I. They each have about a year’s worth of experience more than I but they both came from outside companies whereas I have been here for a decade. Meanwhile, I literally got the highest possible performance rating but was told I couldn’t receive more than a 3% COL increase because “that’s all that was budgeted”. I asked for a number I know is minimum market rate and was told that no one makes that much. Um. I have garbage morale right now. They don’t value my work product, work ethic, or my tenure… they value how cheap my labor is.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They are pure evil and don’t deserve your loyalty or dedication. Have you started looking around? With that solid of background, barring it being a niche kind of industry/job, someone else will throw a bucket of cash at you! It truly stinks that this is the only way to get money sometimes, that’s on your company for running their business so shottily.

      So they’re going to lose you and have to pay your replacement 30% more on top of the money they shell out on recruiting and onboarding, what a smart way to spend money *heavy sigh*

    2. DKMA*

      Hi, if you want advice I would do two things. This advice assumes you are at a big company. If you are at a small company probably just do #1:
      1) Look for other jobs, your evaluation may be correct and you will never get what you could elsewhere at your current company. Use your coworkers salaries as market rate and don’t disclose your current salary to other employers.

      2) Treat the “that’s all that was budgeted” as the start of a conversation, not the end. Let a (short amount of) time pass and bring it back up. Say something like “During the annual review process you said the raise you could give me was capped, but I’d like to revisit this conversation. I know I’m being paid significantly below market rate and I want to discuss how to fix this in a way that is accounted for in the budgeting process. I know sometimes options are limited, but I’ve been here X years, and consistently deliver X, Y, Z and have received top performance ratings and need us to figure out how to address this.” Your boss may have literally not been able to address during the COL process, but there will be some exception process. Your boss may also be lazy and/or not willing to use up political capital on you unless you force his hand. If you boss tells you there is no way to do it all, sorry, you are probably SOL. At that point you can accelerate #1 and consider more extreme actions (e.g. talk to boss’s boss, talk to HR to find out if there is a process you boss “doesn’t know about”, talk to HR about your concerns with phrases like “as a women I may be overly sensitive to these things”). Note that none of the more extreme actions are likely to work and all may have some ramifications if you don’t decide to leave so use caution.

  37. Yarrow*

    The secrecy around pay definitely makes it harder for people to stand up for themselves. I left my last job for an almost 2x pay increase. My old boss didn’t even know how much I was paid and had no say in it. When I found that out, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get what I asked for where I was (and I did explicitly ask for it). I’m friends with my replacement, and he asked about pay about a year in. He was very disappointed to find that there wasn’t a precedent for a sensible pay increase there. I wish he’d asked before taking the job, I would’ve advised him to ask for much more. The culture of secrecy around money normalizes passivity when it comes to negotiating salary.

  38. DCGirl*

    With regard to discussing working conditions, at what point can the employer discipline employees for this? For example, at a previous job, a bunch of employees were disciplined for taking concerns about a manager denying legitimate requests for time off for doctor’s appointments. This company has been getting away with this and other things for years.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Well, employers are known to push boundaries and break laws all the time. Most who do that aren’t above wrongful termination as an end result. Their hope is that you’ll back down and get back in their line or they’ll take the risk of you filing a lawsuit that may or may not stick in the court system. Most are banking on you not wanting to escalate to legal proceedings, as most employees will not rock the boat.

      It depends on your regional regulations as well, are you in a pro-employee state? Are they refusing to allow for FMLA? They can indeed punish you for speaking up on just about anything, unless it’s something that falls under a law and it would be classified as retaliation!

      Retaliation is the number one EEOC claim of the 2018 fiscal year [yes, I just read this report because I’m that boring and it’s interesting to me].

      Many states are all for union-busting and wouldn’t flinch at them putting those blockages in place to avoid CBA.

      1. Observer*

        They can indeed punish you for speaking up on just about anything, unless it’s something that falls under a law and it would be classified as retaliation!

        Nope. Not if it’s “a bunch” of employees. Concerted action is explicitly protected.

    2. Argh!*

      At no point are employers allowed to punish employees for discussing working conditions, or for getting together to ask for a change to working conditions. This is spelled out specifically in FLSA law in order to make it clear that you don’t have to belong to a union to have the right to work together for better working conditions.

      1. Anon But Not a Union Buster*

        What does “allowed” mean? Obviously a company totally can retaliate against employees, and they do all the time. The law just means there is a possibility of punishment. Nothing stops the retaliation in the first place if the company chooses not to care about the punishment possibility.

    3. Observer*

      From what you describe, what the company did was totally illegal. No ifs, ands or buts.

  39. Anancy*

    I thought this letter was going to end with LW asking if they should give (share) their actual money with their co-worker, not share the information! I’m glad I was wrong.

  40. Argh!*

    I think that if your salary is tied to your performance or performance evaluation, you also have the right to discuss those.

    Feeling weird often comes with doing the right thing. It’s why so few people do the right thing.

  41. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    I suppose I’m the only one who thought this, since none of the 222 comments preceding mine have mentioned it, but when I saw the title Alison gave to this question, “should I have shared my salary with a coworker?”, I thought it had something to do with the letter writer expressing a concern about literally sharing her salary – as in, giving the co-worker some of her money.

    It was the word “sharing” that threw me. As I read the discussion I realized the letter writer was concerned about discussing her salary.

    Okay, I’ll hang up my semantics police hat for the night. But that’s what I thought.

    1. Another comp professional*

      I think the comments would have been generally less supportive of the letter writer taking this action

  42. Rallymaster*

    As of last July 1, in Massachusetts, (along with other things, like prohibiting gender discrimination) an employer cannot ask an applicant what their previous salary was, nor can it prohibit its employees from talking about their own salaries amongst themselves. Text is at: . I once worked at a company whose Employee Handbook advised that disclosing salary to coworkers was a fireable offense!

  43. Anonthistime*

    I just found recently that a new-ish coworker (who I helped train) makes $5000 more than me for the same job title. She was able to get a higher starting salary than I did because she negotiated and I didn’t. We started at slightly different times in our career, but I got a $3000 raise in the 2 years I worked here, meaning she still makes more than me having worked here less than a year.

    I don’t hold this against my coworker at all, but towards my company. Management has a lot of issues, and this is one of the many symptoms of it.

  44. Supervisor*

    I would love to know what my peers make but I’m afraid it would piss me off if I found out certain people make more than me so…we don’t discuss it.

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