I earn more than my peers, and they’re not happy

A reader writes:

Five years ago, I was hired in an entry-level role. During the initial employment offer, the company offered their base salary for a starting amount. Since I did my homework on the average salary of the role in this area, I countered with a number closer to the average. The company agreed and I began my job.

After four promotions in five years, I’ve grown in my roles and compensation. Between high turnover and firm growth, my coworkers have similarly risen through the ranks as I have — we all started within a year of each other. Two are now managers, one two levels above me.

Then The Bomb went off — a manager printed a budget document and forget to collect it before others noticed. This form contained salary info on my department peers and clearly showed I’m now the highest paid member of the team. Working backwards, it’s likely that as fresh grads my coworkers never negotiated their starting salary — and after half a decade of collective career advancement, what was a few thousand dollars difference five years ago has now magnified.

There’s a perceptible social distance between us all now, what with me taking home $10,000 per year more than the next highest paid coworker in the department ( who’s a manager two layers above me!). Obviously I’m not responsible for the pay scales and compensation policy of my employer, but short of taking a $10,000 pay cut I’m not sure how I can repair the sudden social distance this new information created. Before this revelation, we were a tight functional team.

I don’t wish to make an obviously sensitive topic worse by appearing patronizing, entitled, or insensitive. Viewing it from their perspective, I can understand why they’d see it as profoundly unfair they’re doing more work than me for far less money. How do I repair this social rift?

You’re right that you’re not to blame for this; your employer is. Your colleagues’ ire should be directed there, not at you.

But it’s human nature for people in your colleagues’ shoes to look at you, getting paid $10,000 more and with less responsibility, and think, “What exactly is so great about that person that they deserve $10,000 more than me?” And that can pretty easily turn into resentment, even if intellectually they know it’s not your fault.

What you can do is look for ways to be your coworkers’ ally and their advocate. Tell them you were as taken aback as they were, tell them you think (based on your own experience) there’s room for them to negotiate more, tell them you think this stems from negotiation that you did at hire, and tell them specifically what you negotiated and how. Share as much info as you can about your salary history at this company — starting salary, raises, all of it. That will arm them with context around the pay disparity and with insight about what works at your company so they can construct the strongest possible cases for their own raises. And if you’re willing, tell them they can reference that information when talking with their managers about their own pay. (If this would be a big political misstep at your company, you might not be up for that — but give them as much permission as you’re willing to.)

If you’re worried your company wouldn’t want you sharing salary info, know that the National Labor Relations Act protects your right to “engage in concerted activities,” which includes the right to discuss your wages and working conditions with coworkers. Employers aren’t allowed to prohibit you from discussing your salary, and any attempts to do so violates the NLRA (although it’s incredibly common for employers to have policies that run afoul of the law). However, it’s important to know this protection only applies to non-supervisory employees, so it may not cover you — although there’s advice here about how to push back on that if you need to.

If you’re a man and the coworkers earning less than you are women, you should also tell your coworkers about the Equal Pay Act if they don’t already know about it and tell them you’ll support them in pushing the company to follow it. (By the way, in case you’re worried about your own pay getting lowered in the name of salary equity, know that the Equal Pay Act specifically says employers cannot lower one employee’s wages to make them equal with another’s.)

Beyond that, ask how else you can support them. It’s a lot harder for people to resent you if you’re actively offering help … in addition to that just being the right thing to do.

{ 297 comments… read them below }

  1. When's Friday again?*

    Also if your coworkers are any ethnic or racial minority and you are not, they should reference the Equal Pay Act in their negotiations as well.

    1. Anonymous Contribution*

      I’m personally not a fan of negotiation in hiring (coming from a country where it isn’t the norm to negotiate at lower levels).

      That being said, if I were one of the higher ranked employees I’d be seething. Under normal circumstances, I believe that greater responsibility must come with higher pay than someone with less

      1. Jean*

        What do you mean you’re “not a fan of negotiation in hiring”? Are you suggesting that an entry-level person is obligated to either take whatever they’re offered or turn down the job? Because that’s ridiculous.

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          I think AC means that employers should offer fair pay from the get-go and not make it the hirees’ responsibility to have to negotiate to get an optimal starting wage.

          1. Lucette Kensack*

            Right. I recently interviewed with an organization that does not negotiate, to avoid precisely this situation. They do their homework, include the salary during the hiring process, and make clear that it’s a flat offer with no negotiation. That is as it should be.

            1. Rexish*

              All bigger companies I’ve work for (intern and employe) have a graph and table that gives an indication of the salary. The hiring manager determines the difficulty level of the job and then based on your experiene and education it show the salary range. The more senior the positions get the higher the range is and there is room for negotion and the C-level is then totally different thing.

              I have to say that I really like it when there is no need to negotiate. Very few of us know our market value until we have enough experience in similar job in similar industry. Also it then opens a whole set of problems when epople have very different salaries for no reason

              1. anonbenon*

                I recently acquired a job where the starting wage is non-negotiable but you do get raises every year, which is great considering the job I’m working at now *conveniently* didn’t do last year’s yearly review to give me my 3% COL raise. That said, if wages are non-negotiable then these orgs need to not only put that in the employment ad, but also the range of pay. If you don’t want me to negotiate for higher wages, that’s fine, but let me know what I could potentially make so I can see if it’s worth my time so I’m not getting into a situation where I find out I’m earning way less than I anticipated.

            2. boop the first*

              Yeah, the one job I sometimes miss even though it was unbearably boring, it was a huge company so EVERYONE started at minimum wage no matter how much experience we had. It was a 50 cent pay cut for me (lol), but I was leaving a job that intentionally paid me a good deal less than my male coworkers, and never did raises, so I was pretty happy about it. I sound insane, but consistency/transparency was so new and refreshing.

          2. Anonymous Educator*

            Yes, this whole scenario arose out of a terrible system that rewards someone not for the work she actually does or the qualifications she has but simply for the fact she asked for more money. That’s ridiculous. That is the system we have now. But that doesn’t make it not ridiculous.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          For entry-level positions, we don’t offer a lot of negotiating room because there is not much to negotiate. There is a starting salary that is aggressively kept at market by our HR department, and there are a few things that will add on to the base starting salary (relevant higher education or transferable experience, mostly). We’re not going to give someone more than a peer just because they asked for more money, so, yes, the salary is fairly take-it-or-leave-it.

          There is a lot more negotiation at levels where someone has experience, work history, or skills that might warrant paying at a different level or enticing them to make a move.

          1. Veronica Mars*

            My fortune 100 company categorically does not negotiate with hires coming out of school. I do think its ‘the right thing to do’.

            One of the most influential talks I ever attended was at a SWE conference, where they showed how failing to negotiate 3% more for your first job could snowball into millions in lost earnings over your lifetime.

            1. PugLife*

              Wow, I just got my first professional job and went through my first negotiation — I negotiated up about 10% from their starting offer (which was the very bottom of their salary band). I’m very very glad I did that especially considering the way it’s likely to compound over time.

              1. TechWorker*

                Right – but this is not how all jobs work. We pay grads based on potential, not on ability – and the starting salary is pretty damn good for the level of experience we’re talking about… negotiation wouldn’t at all be seen as a negative but it also wouldn’t get you very far. There is a salary for the grad role, it’s advertised, and everyone starts on the same page.

                1. Veronica Mars*

                  For what its worth, I WAS suspicious of the ‘no negotiation’ policy when I started – I didn’t know if that’s just something they said, but really they would be willing to reward my ‘gumption’ if I asked. So I did ask for a little more, and they reiterated they don’t negotiate, and I said ok. Theres never a downside to respectfully attempting to negotiate. But honestly I’m relieved I didn’t have to.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Same – our system works because we’re not using minimal negotiation as a way to underpay people. I know we pay more than a number of our competitors, and I don’t lose people to underpayment issues nor hear much inquiry or grousing about pay. It’s also clear how you can move up in pay, and explaining differences in the pay band is easy and straightforward.

            2. Super Duper*

              That makes sense to me. (Presumably a Fortune 100 company is offering fair salaries even for entry-level hires and not trying to get away with paying bottom dollar.) The research shows that the gender pay gap begins with the first job after college, so starting everyone off on even footing is a good way to chip away at that.

        3. Mary*

          It’s not ridiculous if the employer had set a fair salary for the work and advertised it from the start! It’s how the entire public sector and most large third sector organisations work in the U.K.

        4. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes, I am a fan of exactly that… along with employers posting salary range and benefits in the job add, and offering reasonable compensation in their first offer.

          People shouldn’t have to jump hoops to get paid fairly. And if this seems unrealistic, consider that in the US all federal, state and local government jobs must operate this way. I know exactly what salary/benefits is on offer going into an interview, the only thing I’m there for is to find out if I’m a good match for the job.

          1. Artemesia*

            The negotiation game also rewards white men who negotiate much better than women who try to negotiate and are often punished for it, essentially for being uppity. so it isn’t just that women ‘fail to negotiate’; it is that there is a lot of evidence that it hurts them on the job or is somewhat likely to have the offer pulled. Research on car sales shows that even when they negotiate women and minorities don’t get the same ‘deals’ that white men who play this game do. And then women are blamed for the low salaries because ‘they didn’t negotiate and show initiative.’

        5. FaintlyMacabre*

          The places where I’ve been happiest with my salary have been places that either have salary bands (government) or yes, had a standard rate of pay for a position that you could accept or not. No negotiations.

        6. Mia*

          I’m not a fan of it either tbh, especially not for entry level roles. Forcing potential employees, particularly recent grads without much professional experience, to convince you to pay them a fair amount instead of just offering that in the first place isn’t like, ethically stellar.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Oh no, I didn’t mean to post that! I meant – the only time I’ve ever negotiated salary was when I had been bait and switched after I’d already signed an offer letter and I demanded they pay me what they’d said beforehand. They reluctantly agreed to $1 more per hour.

            It’s really not a universal thing, and few people at my level have the bargaining power for it.

        7. Judy Johnsen*

          I do not think that is what he or she means. I think what Anonymous Contributed means, is, that in an ideal world, employers should pay employees fairly, and revisit the issue of salary. At least that is my hope, and I wish that were true. That’s one of the reasons I took a union job.

        8. Anonymous Contribution*

          Other contributors further down have hit the nail on the head. I’m from the UK, and the places I have worked operated on either a set wage or salary bands. Negotiation is just not something that we do as readily over here.

          The closest I have come to a true pay disparity was at a job where everyone started on £17000, but after 3 months it was reviewed on a case by case basis (the job was not, however, one where performance could be adequately assessed – company all but collapsed in the end – so this did cause a few grumbles)

      2. Derjungerludendorff*

        Fair enough for you, but the OP does work in a company that negotiates. So it can be used as a solution here.

      1. When's Friday again?*

        You’re totally right – I was mistaken. In the U.S. race-based discrimination in pay is prohibited under Title VII, not the Equal Pay Act!

        1. DeeEm*

          State mileage may vary (for example, California has an equal pay law that covers gender and race — and it is gender, regardless of male or female).

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            The federal government also covers both issues. Title VII applies to racial and gender discrimination, and the Equal Pay Act refers to pay gaps related to gender, only (it can also apply to men, but it’s much less common). I think Alison just wanted folks to understand that the Equal Pay Act is specifically limited to gender identity.

            (But you’re right that the Unruh Civil Rights Act covers more protected identity groups than federal antidiscrimination law.)

      2. Bluesboy*

        But it applies to both genders, right? I ask because you mention it only in the context of OP being male and the co-workers female. Quite rightly, people tend to think of discrimination in relating to its affecting minorities and women, but if this is a woman, and the underpaid employees are men, I assume the Act is still relevant?

        1. Bluesboy*

          Sorry, I’ve just seen that you addressed this further down. I just wanted to check that my understanding of the law was correct. Thanks!

  2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    This is why I’m against sharing salaries between colleagues. I know I’m in the minority, but you never know what circumstances brought someone to their current salary, feelings get hurt and the hurt and anger is directed at the wrong person.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Hmm, I don’t think I’m buying this take. OP’s coworkers have been critically, objectively underpaid. Keeping the salaries confidential allows that to continue. By what metric could it possibly be fair for someone two levels above OP to make $10K less? This company has acted badly and this was the only way it was going to come out.

      1. Daniel*

        You sometimes see situations in IT where workers get paid more than managers, but that doesn’t sound like the situation here.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Agreed. “It’s not good to make salaries public because people will get upset.” Vs. “If we make salaries public, then then company will be accountable in more than one way for treating it’s employees fairly.”

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Hard agree. If you’re paying everyone fairly and equitably, you have no reason to be afraid of them finding out what their colleagues earn.

          1. TechWorker*

            What about the case where an employee strongly believes they are unfairly paid but… they’re not? I ended up as a manager in a situation where my report got very upset about a peer being paid more & I shared with the what they needed to do to improve and their reaction was ‘but my friend who earns *tiny amount more* doesn’t do those things’… a) you don’t work with them or know what they do, b) it would be inappropriate for me to share information on their performance. I’m not saying this is super common and I’m generally in favour of salaries being open-ish but certainly in this case it caused a whole lot of anguish that imo just wasn’t justified. (The tiny amount really was tiny, btw).

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Two things come to mind here.

              1) Does your employer have published salary ranges? I’m a government employee, so every position has a salary range attached, and every job posting says that starting salary will not exceed the midpoint of that range. There’s also a searchable database that allows anyone to search the name of an employee and find out what they earn. If there’s written documentation that your employee is within the acceptable salary range, and you’re able to explain that sometimes minor fluctuations can occur based on things like training and performance, that can go a long way.

              2) Not every person in the world is 100% rational. I have a former direct report who was angry that her raise percentage was lower than that of another person in our department with the same job title. But the person who got the lower percentage had been with the organization for a lot longer and was already at the top of the salary range and it wasn’t possible for her percentage to increase until the board voted to raise the entire salary range for the position. It was a work in progress, it just couldn’t come through at the same time as everybody else’s raise. She was still making a (considerably) higher hourly rate than her coworker and had been assured that another increase was forthcoming, but it still didn’t stop the complaining. The idea that “fair=everyone gets exactly the same thing at all times” can be strong in some people, and it’s hard to reason against.

              The goal here isn’t “no one should ever be dissatisfied with their compensation.” It’s “everyone is paid a fair salary for the work they do and the experience they’ve accumulated.

            2. Lucette Kensack*

              Then you deal with that situation. It’s a cost to having public salaries, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

              1. TechWorker*

                Right – I guess I was responding to what seems like a fairly common notion that publishing pay is always good and has no downsides for companies that pay fairly (as per the comments here). I don’t think that’s fully true cos as Librarian of Shield says, people aren’t 100% rational.

                1. Lucette Kensack*

                  Oh, got it! I’ve never heard someone argue there are no downsides for companies. There definitely are! Nobody thinks they are the below-average coworker (for whom it would be reasonable to receive a below-average salary), but half of us are.

                2. Hydrangea McDuff*

                  I’m also in the public sector. I recently changed job categories pretty significantly but was able to bring my years of service over from the former position. This meant that I accrue more vacation than my department peer. She knew I made more, because I was hired at a higher level, but for some reason the vacation was what she got upset about (I get two more days than she does)! And I actually felt bad for a minute until I remembered I actually do have 20 years in the org while she has 7; I’m just new to our department…it was a really awkward convo.

                3. hbc*

                  No one says there are no downsides, but I can tell you from experience that when I went to the open model for salary ranges (at two companies now), the people who whined and pouted were not high performers or team players. The guy who gave the most grief about it was the guy who also tried to get me to pay for his (incorrectly calculated) commute. I’ve lost people over being open, and I always found better replacements.

                  Conversely, there are plenty of excellent employees who shared salaries while it was actively discouraged by my company before I took over. I’d hate to think of what would have happened if they were disciplined for it.

                4. Chinookwind*

                  DH had the same thing happen to him. He brought over his years of experience when he became a cop and had coworkers resent the fact that he started as a rookie as twice the vacation time and fewer years to full retirement even though he made the same salary a He pointed out that they could be in the same position as him if they were willing to spend their first 7 years in the military like he did.

                  Other people may be unhappy because they are irrational or uninformed, but that is on them and can be fixed only by them. It is not the responsibility of a person who following the system agreed to by everyone to make those people happy.

            3. Emily S*

              Like so many other aspects of management, you can’t let fear of someone getting upset guide your decisions. The goal can’t be “nobody gets upset.” You treat your employees with respect and transparency and then expect them to manage their emotions like adults. Sometimes they might get upset; that’s OK. As long as they behave professionally, they’re allowed to be upset. If they act out because they’re upset, that’s a performance issue to coach them on, because you operated with respect and transparency, so it’s unreasonable for them to act out in response. And, especially if they’re a bit younger, learning how to manage disappointment is an important skill that will be needed again in their career. It sounds like you were acting reasonably in your situation by providing a concrete business reason for the pay disparity.

              If your concern is more of a general morale thing, not an acting-out hing, where you’re afraid they won’t be as committed to the job or will quit if they don’t agree with the way you’re paying them, well – that’s how the market sets salaries. You pay employees enough to keep them and accept that you may lose them if you can’t or won’t.

              Counting on salary confidentiality to obscure their sense of whether they’re being fairly paid is not unlike asking job candidates to name their salary without giving them the salary range – some kind of belief that $X is $X and matter how much someone else makes shouldn’t affect whether the employee thinks $X is a good salary. The world doesn’t work that way, people compare themselves to their peers and we operate in a competitive economy. It’s taking advantage of information asymmetry to convince someone to accept a worse offer, like an unscrupulous car salesman who doesn’t mention that the car has been underwater. “You liked the car just fine before you found out the engine had been submerged in water, you should like it just as much now, it’s the same car, after all!”

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                The goal can’t be “nobody gets upset.” You treat your employees with respect and transparency and then expect them to manage their emotions like adults.

                This this this. My company just published their salary bands for the first time. I had been feeling a little iffy about my wage (didn’t realize how much crappier the health care situation was going to be when I came over, would have tried to get a bit more if I had). Turns out, I started just shy of the midpoint, and now I feel a lot better about that wage, and a lot better about knowing which direction I want to go in the company.

              2. TechWorker*

                This is all true thank you! And to be clear, I broadly disagree with my own managers stance on the matter, which is basically that publishing pay mostly causes hassle.

                I do think though that publishing pay bands, so that people can see where they are vs an average, is more useful than publishing individual salaries – precisely because I think peers working on different teams can have a skewed view of others performance.

                (As an eg of something that happened in my company – we had one employee who was scruffy, worked the bare minimum of hours, and also was so good at the job that he was twice as productive as everyone else. He was rewarded accordingly but when others asked him about his work he’d be like ‘oh not sure I don’t do much really’…)

        2. Emily S*

          Right, people aren’t upset because the salaries have been made public. They’re upset because the salaries are not appropriate or fair.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I take the other extreme. I miss working at a place where all salaries were public; that kind of transparency really discouraged inequities.

        1. Don't worry, I won't get far on foot*

          Moved from a state uni to a private uni and going from having it published on our site to a culture of corporate-like secretiveness is SO weird. I’ll tell anyone here my salary. Sometimes they balk, but I’m not buying into this weird minority of library culture they’re trying to create.

        2. Shhhh*

          I’m also a librarian (at a public university) and I agree, it’s great. I also know that the last university I worked at was taking serious and significant steps to make sure employees who were being underpaid received raises that brought them up to the middle of the salary band for their position. Without the transparency around salaries, I’m not sure that would’ve happened.

        3. kittymommy*

          Agree. I too work in government and having that openness actually has made it easier to deal with when people argue about big discrepancies. For example, in the department next to me their was a person who was earning vastly more than her colleagues, she was at the tip top level of the salary range – in order for it to go hire it has to go for board vote in a public forum. A couple of her co-workers were a little salty about this until it was explained to them that the two biggest reasons she was at that amount was 1. she had been here almost 30 years (they weren’t even at a third of that) and 2. a big chunk of her time here was when the economy was doing great and raises were pretty good (now they hover around 3%) and much of their time was when raises were sometimes non-existent or just a couple hundred dollar bonuses.

          This type of openness worked in their favor (or at least their “fairness” opinion) when everyone in that department at that level was re-classified to fair market value and they came up somewhat and the long-timer did not get a pay adjustment.

          1. Chris*

            I wish my organization was more transparent with salaries for this reason. It isn’t my decision to make, but based on the salaries I am privy to based on my role, there is actually less inequity than the staff thinks exist. Some of the chronic complainers would be disappointed to find out that their salary is fair based on market analysis and relative to their colleagues. The challenge would be the people who are lower performers, who can’t seem to accept that they are not doing as well as some of their team mates. It could be positive in terms of encouraging some of the managers that have a hard time w/ difficult convos to be able to say “In order to get to $X, you need to be reaching these milestones.”

      1. Tau*

        My first job didn’t make salaries public but did the next best thing (made the salary for each job role/level public plus extremely clear criteria for each level and when you’d be eligible for a promotion). Every job since then has played the “oh no we could never mention MONEY you and your coworkers are sensitive delicate beings who must be protected from the irrational rage you would obviously spiral into if you knew how much the other was earning” game and I HATE it. I’m not great at negotiating and as a result I feel like I exist in this cloud of vague worry that I’m being underpaid. I miss that first job. :(

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. When I switched to a public job where our salaries are published publicly, it had a major (positive) effect on the ability to negotiate and to narrow pay inequality. I wish all employers were required to publish their salary data.

    3. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

      I get that, but the end result to that line of thinking always benefits the employer, not the employees.

      This is a case in point: the reason this got so bad, to the tune of $10k/yr, is that nobody talked about salary back when the LW negotiated a higher number for entry level.

      1. Sparrow*

        Completely agree this only advantages the employer! It doesn’t matter the circumstances that lead to the discrepancy; the company should’ve recognized it as a problem and corrected it in the process of advancing people. But they were happy to continue paying OP’s coworkers less than they deserve because no one knew to raise a stink about it.

        1. Krabby*

          And it also disproportionately affects minorities and women. So the employers win /and/ the disenfranchised triple-lose.

        2. dani*

          I always wonder though, are they being paid less than they deserve? It is very possible OP is overpaid, not the other way around. It’s possible his hiring manager made a mistake in agreeing to his starting salary all those years ago.

          If we assume for a second that the other employees are being compensated fairly, or even more than fairly, what would be the fix then?

          Do you lower OP’s pay because some manager made a mistake a decade ago? Or is the company just required to severely overpay EVERYBODY due to the fact that one hiring manager made a mistake with one employee and paid him too much several years ago?

          OP does not say people were unhappy with their pay range before they found out about his, so it seems the possibility is they are upset, not that they are being paid unfairly, but that they have a coworker being overpaid, and they do not like that. No one should be doing better than them of course.

          That may not be the situation, but if it is, I don’t know how you would fix it.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        I think in the case it reveals a bigger problem that has nothing to do with the LW negotiating the higher number for entry level. If the coworkers have since been promoted 2 levels above LW, then the employer was clearly basing their raises when they got promoted on their pay at the time of promotion – rather than based on an established range for the position they were being promoted into. If the salary band for LW’s current position has overlap with positions 2 levels above them….unless LW is right now at the tippy top of the range for their current role and the promoted colleagues are at the very bottom range for their current roles…it still just doesn’t quite make sense that there should be overlap to that degree. Which means they don’t have clearly defined ranges for these roles in the first place, which is its own bucket of problems.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      I see the problem more as the fact that there is a massive, inexplicable difference between the salaries, and sharing is the only way for employees to know that. This particular example is egregious – paying a manager less than another employee because they negotiated on the way in? There is something very off about this employer’s compensation and/or titling structure.

      This is all on the employer. The employer should have been paying OP’s peers market for their positions (or not have given OP such a high start and raises that kept her so high). The employer should not have a payscale that allows for this discrepancy in the first place, and they should have a clearly articulated rubric for what they pay people. The employer also should not have printed the salary info in a way that it could be seen by others.

      Keeping salary secret is how these sorts of pay discrepancies are allowed to happen and does more harm than some misplaced blame that, once people sit down and think about it and the emotions wear off, should really be resolved quickly by reasonable people.

      1. Heidi*

        Agree to all of this! I am reminded of a recent post about a doctor’s office that asks people what their salary expectations are because they want to know if they can get away with paying them less. Employers cannot be trusted to pay employees equitably if no one knows what the employees are actually being paid.

        1. TechWorker*

          So I’m going to somewhat play devils advocate here and say I don’t think this is always true.

          The huge company I work for *really* cares about pay fairness. They benchmark across the industry and aim to pay on average near the top of the average range for a given role/level of responsibility. They also review pay within grades regularly against various criteria to a, eg if they found based on stats that on average women at grade 5 were paid less than men at grade 5 they’d bump all the women’s pay to make the averages the same.

          Within my bit of the org, individuals are compared against each other in great detail to make sure that feedback coming from different managers/teams doesn’t skew pay raises.

          But… they still don’t publish salary bands and they still discourage people from discussing pay *shrugs*

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            I mean, that’s great when a company decides to do the right thing, commitment to fairness, etc. But all the employees are stuck simply trusting the company to do the right thing. Employees need to be able to make decisions and advocate for themselves, and they can’t do that well enough when the company is intentionally trying to keep pay information from them.

            Your company reminds me of the Enlightenment ideal of the benevolent despot. But when that despot goes bad, the consequences fall disproportionately on the subjects– er, employees.

          2. HR Grunt*

            But how does anyone outside HR know that unless the salaries and stats are shared? If they’re actually as fair and rational as they claim, it should be able to withstand any employee complaints, including employees comparing salaries.

            I see so much $hit as an HR grunt that makes me distrust that kind of employer trust.
            If employers don’t want people discussing pay it means they’re nervous, and that means they’re hiding something.

            1. TechWorker*

              To clarify, we’re in a country where it’s also illegal to prevent non management employees from talking about pay and comparing salaries, so it does happen. I honestly do not think they’re ‘nervous’ about it, there’s just some high up HR view that private salaries are ‘better’. (It does help in general that the company *does* pay well….)

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            I’m basically in the same boat, except re the discouraging discussion of pay. (People are allowed to discuss this, and there is no direction of any kind on the subject from management.)

            I love my HR folks. They are very committed to equity and paying people market rate, and they audit both annually. They will also ask questions if they see a discrepancy in existing pay or a salary recommendation that doesn’t make sense. I’ve never had to change anything I recommended, but I like that they’re monitoring.

    5. Oh No She Di'int*

      There may be reasons not to discuss salary, but in my opinion, hurt feelings is not one of them. If there are inequities in the workplace those need to be discussed and addressed, even if that’s painful.

    6. MicroManagered*

      The solution for that is not for colleagues not to discuss salary though. The solution is for employers to monitor and fix equity problems on an ongoing basis with regular reviews and adjustments to market. The best way for employees to advocate for themselves is to have some idea if those equity problems exist.

      1. Knotty Ferret*

        But how do I know if there’s an equity problem without speaking to coworkers?
        My company is paying at the low end of market, but it seemed reasonable for a small company. Until I found out the coworker doing essentially the same job is paid $3/hr more and has 4 times the bonus, and suddenly I feel rather underpaid (especially that bonus, which is not performance based).

        1. Claire*

          I think that’s essentially what MicroManagered means–ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss said that colleagues shouldn’t discuss salaries because it will cause hurt feelings, so MM countered that the correct solution for that issue is not having people not discuss salaries. The double negative is a bit confusing, but I’m pretty sure you two are on the same page.

    7. IT Department Relationship Manager*

      You are not right. Hiding salaries will benefit employers because they can have high salaries for some and balance their budget by not paying others. If you’re in the high salary pool, it’s great! But that is a terrible way to run a company. You should be able to have your salaries posted tomorrow and have a fair explanation for each of them.

      I would not want to work for this company who promoted these two managers and saw the salary discrepancies and didn’t do anything about it. That’s terrible management.

      In my personal experience working in public areas, having salaries posted means that there aren’t blow ups when a salary is revealed. You are complaining about the revealing and not the reason why people are actually upset, the discrepancies in the salary! Having them be public keeps these kinds of discrepancies from happening as often and it gives people a better idea of how to manage their career. At any level of my career, I would be happy to wear a plaque that said my salary.

    8. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      I think that’s taking things in the wrong direction. The fact that the OP’s colleagues are getting underpaid is something they should know! But they should be directing their ire that the company that isn’t apparently interested in scaling pay appropriately, not at the OP.

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Um, no.

      If companies don’t want their employees getting mad about this, they should pay fairly.

    10. Observer*

      True. But the only way to keep that from happening is to pay people fairly. Trying to keep salaries secret just doesn’t work.

    11. andy*

      Nah, had they knew salaries, they would have strong argument into negotiation long time ago.

      The core issue is unfair salaries. Yes, peple without information are easier to take advantage off in negotiation. That does not mean information is a problem.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      At my first job, in my home country, the salaries were public. On the team I was on, the men’s salaries varied, but the women all made exactly the same. Our manager explained it as “if I give one of you 5 (local currency) more a month, the rest of you hens will peck her to death.” I thought it was a horrible thing to say, then one day he gave me a raise and within days, I overheard a teammate loudly complaining to others that I did not deserve to be paid that much, because I hadn’t been there long enough. I’ll say this though – it was one person. Not the brightest one either (she knew that my desk was behind a bookshelf, but somehow thought I wouldn’t be able to hear?) Everyone else explained to her why I’d received the raise, and basically shut her down. Either way, I’d prefer everyone knowing each other’s pay to not knowing. If someone takes it out on the wrong person, that’s bad judgment and is kind of on them, I think?

      1. andy*

        > On the team I was on, the men’s salaries varied, but the women all made exactly the same. […] if I give one of you 5 (local currency) more a month, the rest of you hens will peck her to death. […] I overheard a teammate loudly complaining to others […] I’ll say this though – it was one person.

        Interesting study in how all kinds of sexism compound there:
        – Quite apparently compensation is not fair to at least some women. There is no attempt to make it fair for women.
        – The state of situation is blamed on women themselves.
        – And then the one person that disagree with decision is definitely proof of women being problem – even when disagreement is solved.
        – If one gets more money, chances are she is not only one who deserves more money or different strategy, quite likely salaries among women should generally vary just as those for men. But someone complaining about it is a problem not the split.
        – Salary raise for men does not require special explanation, people accept that by default.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oh I agree. It was a highly sexist environment, and culture in general. Fun fact: I lost that job (de-facto – on paper, I was employed there for another 4 years and was on unpaid maternity leave) after my first child was born. Home country had super long maternity leaves, 2 months before the baby is born and up to 6 years(!!) after. The first three months came with full pay, then some amount of time (I forget how long) with partial pay, then you can stay on unpaid leave up to six years and you’ll still have your job to return to. Except that when I tried to return when my son was 18 months old, I was told to stay on maternity leave because they had no vacancy for me. They’d hired my replacement the moment I went on leave (so before my son was even born) and it was a single guy with no children. They also had layoffs in the first year that I was out. Our group was maybe 50% women. Somehow every woman in the group got the ax (and some were really qualified too – one used to do support and work with end users when she was on the team, and went on to become the HR director at the same place after she lost her job on the team), but none of the men were affected. It was… interesting times, to say the least.

    13. ElizabethJane*

      The only one this benefits is the employer. Employees have nothing to gain by keeping salary information quiet.

    14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The hurt feelings are a byproduct of the company mismanaging themselves in the end. Yes they’re then turned at the person who isn’t to blame but that doesn’t mean we hide things because someone may get caught in friendly fire of emotions.

    15. Gazebo Slayer*

      Being against sharing salaries is being in favor of racial and gender pay disparities.

      It’s also being in favor of permanently disadvantaging people who graduated into recessions or otherwise lacked bargaining power at the start of their employment. And of general underpayment.

    16. SierraSkiing*

      I would love to see salary information be relentlessly always public. It keeps companies accountable for paying their workers fairly. Even if I don’t know by watching him why Fergus might earn more than me, my managers should be able to explain why if I ask (presuming he isn’t an undercover CIA agent.)

    17. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

      Hurt and anger is directed at the wrong person- but if unfair practices are at play, it’s the only way that’s revealed. It’s a policy to avoid personal discomfort.

    18. Smithy*

      While I disagree with this for lots of the reasons already stated – another reason is that I believe this also hurts your sector, which can inevitably hurt your long term prospects.

      I work for nonprofits where there is both an overall attitude of “we don’t get paid” as well as assorted opportunities for guilt about how salaries take away from money for programs. The reality that I’ve found in practice is that salaries can vary wildly even in specific sectors. And if there’s not open dialogue about what our roles are actually worth, then you can find yourself at the top of a pay sector and stuck without lots of other jobs in the sector that value your work similarly. So while it may benefit you in the near-term to quietly be paid far more than peers – it allows your industry as a whole to not always value your work.

    19. Artemesia*

      keeping women happy getting paid much less than men is the primary reason for forbidding discussion of salaries. Lilly Ledbetter after all got told that she couldn’t have salary justice because she didn’t complain about her low pay timely — she didn’t know she was underpaid for years. there is no upside to keeping salaries secret, but it is very convenient for employers who pay unfairly.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ledbetter is one of the worst employment discrimination cases in recent history. She was absolutely robbed, and the Supreme Court got it entirely wrong.

    20. RG*

      This seems a bit off in terms of response enough – the company failed to address the discrepancy in pay equity and you leap to not talking about salary with co-workers? That’s like falling off your bike as a kid and skinning your knee and concluding that a helmet is useless.

    21. Rexish*

      The Company should be able to explain the circumstances on why person X is getting paid more than others. There really shouldn’t be provate reasons for it. I do agree that the person who is getting paid more shouldn’t be getting the blame.

  3. Nonprofit Nancy*

    I’m trying to think how to say this right, but I think there’s a tendency to over-attribute our own good luck to our actions and choices (“the reason I make more is because I cleverly did market research and negotiated my first job!”) that may not hold up under scrutiny. Of course, we all like to believe we got where we are because of hard work, ingenuity and smart decisions. But to be honest, luck and social factors (race, class, gender) have a bigger role in our success than we’d like to admit. You don’t know that others didn’t try to negotiate. I have attempted to use market rate arguments and been told flatly that there was no room in the budget and the offer was take it or leave it – and then other people somehow got more. Suddenly there *was* room. I don’t know exactly how this happened.

    Once you stop viewing the income discrepancy as a result of your actions, it’s easier to see that of course you should advocate for a salary review across the board.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yep. It’s a lot easier for employers to push back on minorities and women than it is for them to push back on white dudes.

      Such is life, but it also needs to stop.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I’m on norco, so please forgive any inaccuracies, but I have a vague memory of a study about negotiation between four job candidates. Same resume, similar names, but one white dude, one white woman, one african-american man, one african-american woman. White dude was perceived as wanting the job and being competent when he negotiated, or as wanting the job and being diplomatic when not negotiating. White woman was viewed as not wanting the job when negotiating, and as wanting the job and being professional when not negotiating. The african-americans were both not perceived as wanting the job under any circumstances; the man was considered arrogant for negotiating and lazy for not negotiating, and the woman was aggressive for negotiating and stupid for not negotiating.

        1. Caliente*

          And that’s the general perception of black people isn’t it? No matter WTF we do it’s a problem.

        2. Batty Twerp*

          It may or may not be the same study, but I recall a similar scenario where they didn’t even have real candidates. It was literally just the resumes – a two-sided piece of paper – that was being judged. As you said, it was *exactly the same document*. They just changed the name (so John Smith / Jane Smith / Jose Garcia etc). There weren’t even any photos to draw additional conclusions from – *just the name*.
          Pretty much as you described – John Smith was considered the best candidate and would have been offered the highest starting salary; Jane was considered, but at the bottom end of the salary range; Jose didn’t get a look in.

          1. soon to be former fed really*

            Racism, sexism, and ageism are as American as apple pie and are baked into its institutions.

          2. SimplyTheBest*

            It’s like that orchestra. They moved to blind hiring in an effort to equalize their male:female hiring ration, but it didn’t change as much as they thought. Then they started doing carpeted auditions and suddenly there was parity. Because just hearing the clacking of high heeled shoes on the ground was enough to trigger sexist bias. Our biases are so deeply ingrained within us, it only takes a name or a photo or a high heeled shoe to treat someone unfairly.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Exactly.

      I’d also add that timing can be a factor too. Getting hired or getting promotions during prosperous times helps your salary, while recessions and slowdowns hurt. So it’s up to employers to balance this out over time by doing salary reviews, and bringing up employees who lag behind their peers. Having the mentality “we’ll pay as little as each employee lets us” is bullshit, and it’s likely to run afoul of labor laws.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yes, and this is basically what we do. The market in my industry went up significantly in the past year, so we adjusted our starting pay to ensure we’re competitive. Because it would be crazy to have someone brand new earning more than someone who already knows how to do the job, the current team also got a market adjustment to more than the new starting salary.

        1. darsynia*

          I will never forget how unfair it felt when, at my first job, the minimum wage was raised and in so doing erased a year’s worth of raises I’d earned because my current pay rate was now minimum wage. My employer did not raise my pay rate to the equivalent above the minimum based on what I’d earned, and acted like the government had done him a favor by evening out the amount he had to pay his employees.

          1. Nonprofit Nancy*

            Yeah, this is real but I try to never begrude the new employee that. I used to make less than 45K and work a TON of nights and weekends that was not paid or comped out, but I thought I was “paying my dues” or whatever. When those new proposed labor laws came out in 2018 I was in my second job so I was making just over the cutoff (and still working a ton of unpaid and uncomped nights and weekends). My company adopted the new rules even though they ultimately weren’t passed at the time, so all the more-junior-people got raises AND they were now prevented from working overtime … which all fell to me, the true “exempt” employee! But my beef was with HR, not the new kids. It wasn’t right that I had done it, and it wasn’t right to ask them to do it either (and it wasn’t right to dump it all on my now haha).

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            I hope you didn’t resent your coworkers for this, or decide minimum wage laws were bad because of it.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This, too. Although as far as I can tell it’s not functionally different from basing somebody’s pay on what they made in a previous job, since both are dependent on a job’s “worth” in a different time and situation, and it should be reviewed and remedied on a regular basis.

    3. LibrarianLady*

      YES and thank you for saying this. I was irked reading this bit “Working backwards, it’s likely that as fresh grads my coworkers never negotiated their starting salary — and after half a decade of collective career advancement, what was a few thousand dollars difference five years ago has now magnified.”

      This person really has NO idea how that pay disparity came about –this is purely speculation on their part, but now that they know better, they should do better.

    4. ragazza*

      There are literally studies showing that women who try to negotiate higher salaries don’t get them as often as men and/or that they’re viewed negatively for doing so.

      1. Artemesia*

        I know specific situations where women were treated badly as a result of negotiating — e.g. she got a signing bonus but was treated badly by leadership and struggled to advance although doing great work (bringing in new business etc) Domineering men really don’t like ambitious women.

    5. IT Department Relationship Manager*

      I agree! Maybe LW came in at a time where they had extra money in their budget and so they had more to offer. Just because you feel like you negotiated a salary right doesn’t mean everyone else didn’t. The only people who know everything are the employers and it’s their job to pay/offer fairly.

      When LW got this higher salary, they should have adjusted their peers’ salaries if they believed that their work was worth more and that should have flowed through to the people who came after especially. You can’t sit there and have people in the same job (or in this case much higher!) with similar experience and education and justify that they should get paid more because 5 years ago on one day they were able to ask for more money.

    6. Threeve*

      This is a very good point. Somebody else making the same request on offer stage may simply have been refused, and acquiesced to the lower salary or turned down the job. And if LW talks to her coworkers, “I did this one thing right that you did not” is going to go over as well as “I got lucky and didn’t realize it until now, I think pay discrepancy like this is as unreasonable as you do.”

    7. AnotherAlison*

      Along those lines, in my opinion, 5 years later, those negotiating disparities should be erased. It’s on the employer to see to that. Are you telling me everyone had the same performance and promotions and got the same percent raise, hence magnifying the disparity? Or, OP had better performance and now has higher pay. Then, in that case, this situation is not really what it seems to be. OP is doing better. (Excluding discrimination, etc., as mentioned in Alison’s response, that should be considered.)

      I personally had ended up a little under my tenure/role peers, but it was because I spent a good chunk of time in a role that got me lousy raises. I moved out of that role, put in some time doing higher level work, and am back where I should be. I think this is good info for the coworkers to have. They shouldn’t hold it against the OP, but they’ve got the information they need to figure out how to get paid.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        (When I say in my opinion, I mean my opinion. . .I am aware of research that first salaries can follow you forever.)

      2. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Yeah, even if OP got lucky with their opening offer, the company had the obligation to review salaries across the board every time someone was promoted, and it sounds like there were many opportunities missed. They really acted crappily here and they deserve this heat, which was inevitable. (Not saying OP did anything wrong at all, this really isn’t on them).

      3. Fikly*

        There is an extensive history of companies cutting salaries/benefits due to “bad economies” but then never bringing them back, because if they can get away with it, why spend the extra money?

      4. PollyQ*

        Many employers handle raises in terms of percents, rather than absolute dollars. So even a high performer could still be earning less than a middling performer, depending on what their starting salaries were.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I get that. If you start at 45k and get 5% for 5 years, you’re around 57k. If you start at 50k and get 3% for 5 years, your slightly higher at almost 58k, but it’s evening out. My company won’t give more than X% per raise cycle, so it can take a little time. There would need to be a larger initial gap than the OP thinks, though, for her to be 10k ahead if they were getting larger percent raises than her. The gap would widen if they were getting the same percent. But smart companies aren’t looking at just giving all top performers X%. They are going to look at absolute numbers, too. Sometimes if you need to bring someone up and keep someone else lower, you can give them a bonus that year and a more middling raise.

          1. Nonprofit Nancy*

            Yeah but someone who is senior to OP shouldn’t be making less than them now without that begin flagged. Even if all promotions are 5% or whatever, there should be some levelling down when somebody goes up a rung above others.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Where I work, the standard for a raise given for a promotion is a 10% increase OR the minimum salary in the range for the position, whichever is more. So, if someone’s been with the organization for years and years and their accumulated merit raises has pushed them above the minimum salary for the position they’re being promoted to, they get a 10% bump. But if the person’s salary is low enough that the 10% doesn’t take them to their new position’s minimum, they may end up with a 12% or 15% increase instead, because all employees at that level make at least the minimum salary.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              That’s not unheard of in my place. The manager two levels up might be higher in the org chart here, but that doesn’t mean they should be the highest paid. A theoretical example where this happens here is that a department manager can be in the administrative manager role and have engineers reporting to him (or her) that earn more. Sometimes that’s years-experience based, but sometimes it is just unique experience that’s more valuable.

            3. Rusty Shackelford*

              At a previous employer, a woman was given a promotion to supervisor, but no raise, because “you would be making more than people who have worked here 20 years.”

            4. TechWorker*

              I mean, there *are* situations where an absolutely stellar performer with hard to find skills might be reasonably paid more than someone mediocre at a higher grade… but… being paid 10k more than someone two levels up sounds WILD

        2. Pommette!*

          It’s true! I find it mind-boggling that so many employers handle raises in terms of percentages! (And, in my limited and second hand experience, when cost of living adjustments, and disbursing non-performance-based bonuses… it seems like even unions often use percentages in their negociations!)

          Percentages increase pay disparities, and their effect is compounding.

        3. MsSolo*

          We’re looking at negotiating the current CoL raises at our org, and there’s a push to have percentage raises for the lower salary bands and a flat raise for the higher bands, to reduce the pay discrepancies that have arisen as a result of decades of percentage based raises, especially since, like most orgs, most of the BAME and female employees are in lower pay bands, so are seeing their earnings increase more slowly than the white men at the top. Our chief exec doesn’t need another £2k a year, but that money could make a real difference spread amongst entry level staff.

    8. TS*

      I have read in a couple places that physical attractiveness affects hiring far more than race, class or gender.

      One issue that no one has mentioned is that salary isn’t the only compensation. The coworkers may be getting a different amount of PTO, benefits, etc.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Yep, and I also think there’s an element of that under “class” too – the ability to appear as a well educated middle or income WASP, which includes things like nice (expensive) teeth, good clothes, good hair. Even weight can be linked in some cases to poverty. How you present yourself in general doesn’t occur in a vacuum but in many jobs has little bearing on ultimate performance.

        1. Goliath Corp.*

          Yes, this is very true. The people in my company who have advanced seem to have done so not because of their job performance but their physical performance — white, come from wealthy families, wear designer clothes that no one else at their salary level could afford*, and conform to typical beauty standards.

          *“dress for the job you want” is bull**** but effective, I guess.

      2. Quill*

        Physical attractiveness is often correlated with class and race… (eurocentric beauty standards, access to good dental care during youth…) and women are judged more harshly on physical appearance than men, so I’m pretty sure it can’t be fully separated from them.

        1. Not a cat*

          Back in the ’90s, I was interviewing for a position with several managers. I was waiting (there was some in-between time) and clearly overheard the managers discussing my looks. I didn’t get an offer and I think I dodged a bullet there.

      3. Fikly*

        Possibly.

        But there was a study where identical resumes were given out, the only difference was a female sounding name versus a male sounding name. The male ones got offered interviews around 2-3 times more often than the female ones.

        So clearly there is a massive amount of bias that affects hiring before attractiveness can even come into play.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          There are similar studies with racially stereotypical names. Turns out Michael gets invited to a lot more interviews than Jamal.

          1. Filosofickle*

            At least one study took this farther and showed that a Michael with a criminal record got invited to more interviews than Jamal. :(
            (I’m not saying one shouldn’t interview people with records. Just noting the the bias against perceived black applicants can be even worse than the bias against “criminals”. Which is saying something.)

          2. MonkeyInTheMiddle*

            And this is one of the big reasons I changed my last name when I got married, to seem less ethnic. One of the few things in life which I am at odds with.

        2. Rewe*

          There was a study recently in the University of Helsinki where they studied the relationship between foreign names and interview invites in various sector, but mainly lower paying jobs. They discovered (unsuprisingly) that poeple with finnish names got most invites, followed by stereotypically white names from stereotypiacally white countries and then there is a drop for middle eastern and african names.

          What was interesting that women got more interviews than men in all name categories. It would be interesting to replicate the study for higher level positions and see if the gender aspect changes.

    9. Brett*

      Yep, we had an awful employee at last job who made a lot more than everyone else. He made 60% more than me in the same role, despite having less experience, having less education, and being a notoriously bad coworker. He attributed his higher salary to his superior negotiation skills. It did not take long to figure out that, instead, the person who he negotiated with was from the same elite all-boys catholic prep high school and “knew his situation” so he gave him the band max as his starting salary. And then turned around and offered the band minimum to everyone else in the unit so they could afford that person. Just so happens he is also the only white male in the unit, which is mostly minority women.

      Sad to say, I just saw in the minutes for the executive elected board the other day (looking for an unrelated new ordinance) that they just created a new salary band and made this employee the only person in that band, putting him three bands above all his co-workers.

      1. MellieB*

        Yes to all of this! I am on the other side of this situation right now. I DID try to negotiate when I started and was denied, but I needed the job. I like what I do and the benefits are great compared to the private sector, but people hired just after me, when the county financial outlook changed, and in positions two and three levels below me make the same or more than I do. I have chatted with my boss and management about it several times and basically been told, “let it go”, “too bad”, or they blame the person that hired me. Unfortunately, because it is a government job, there is a whole ridiculous mindfield to walk through to try to do something about it and management keeps changing. I keep fighting the fight, though.

        1. Brett*

          In most counties, you need a department head willing to take your case to the civil service board to get a chance like that.
          And they won’t do it, because it costs them political capital they need to keep their own job and to get paid more, or to get a key hire that they want to pay out of band. You already work there, so there’s no point in going all the way to the civil service board for you.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        YES! The situation you describe with your co-worker was my knee jerk reaction to the cause of the OP’s situation. Not to imply that OP isn’t a top performer, but my gut reaction is that she was given some sort of preference with regard to her salary/raises over the years, even if she’s unaware of what or why. Maybe the decision maker really liked her, a boss advocated more for her than others for reasons unknown, etc. Basically, favorites, in a nutshell. Again, even if that’s the case, it’s not her fault, but it happens all the time and I’ve seen it more times than I can count. About half the time the beneficiary (favorite) knew they were making more than others, but the other half they were oblivious.

      3. Smithy*

        Goodness – I have seen so many times the whole “it’s not racism/sexism/homophobia – just cronyism” as some kind of excuse. I get that we are in a time where those accusations feel like an attack on someone’s personal character or beliefs, but cronyism is the fastest path to allowing those historical discriminatory trends to remain. People who hire through their networks, their friends, their fellow alumni, etc – and somehow the same kind of people just get hired. Regardless of what’s in anyone’s heart.

        1. Super Duper*

          I think cronyism is often just the other side of the racism/sexism/homophobia coin. Meaning, I associate with people who are “like me” and I’m motivated to use my power and influence to help them professionally. People who are “not like me” are subject to biases and held to a different standard, by which they’re disadvantaged. It looks more benevolent on the surface but it has a discriminatory effect, whether or not the person consciously realizes what they’re doing.

        2. Brett*

          Yes, exactly this is what happened in the situation I described above. Since the cronyism was connected to an elite all-boys catholic school (that was also pretty much uniformly white), it led directly to clear discrimination on race, sex, and orientation.

  4. LadyL*

    This happened to my partner- he got hired somewhere and negotiated his salary. Later on he became friends with someone there who had been there 10 years longer than him and it turned out was making $1,000 less a year than he was as a newbie. She was hurt, but they’re still close friends because a) he immediately acknowledged the possibility sexism was at play and did not get up in his own ego on that part and b) he encouraged her to go back and negotiate her salary and used his as proof she should be much more confident in her negotiations. He told her what types of things he used to justify his salary requests, and helped her strategize.

    He and I both advocate being open about salary because we both believe it’s crucial in order to gain equity in the workforce. Support your coworkers, don’t get in your ego about whether you deserve more than them or not, and help them fight for more fairness in how your company deals with money and your coworkers will see you as an ally rather than an adversary.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      I applaud your partner, especially on point (a). So many people hear a call for equality as a knock against their own merit. As if someone else gaining similar advantages somehow makes you less smart or less capable.

    2. Nonprofit Nancy*

      These cases are so hard, too, because it’s usually *not* a good argument to say, “I know you’re paying Steve 10K more than me and I want a raise” even though that is the literal truth. I’ve also seen this come back against Steve for sharing the info, without even helping the person who requested the raise :(

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        In the US, now, legally, the company can not come back against Steve for it. I forget exactly when that became law, but it’s fairly recent.

        This means that ‘clearly, the market rate is X, because Steve makes X, and I should be paid the market rate’ should be a safer argument to make.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          To be fair, the Steve in my experience wasn’t like, fired or written up, but his boss gave him a talking-to about needing to be more discrete and that he was very well paid because of his unique value to the company. We were all curious at the time if it was even legal to chide him about it (he was a supervisor). And the person he had disclosed to did not get a raise. She left the company to stay home with her kids not that long after :(

          It was an interesting place because some jobs associated with sales did bring in a lot more money and thus get bigger bonuses – but the supervisors influenced which people got the opportunity to bring in sales. “Oh, you’re heading to a meeting with a potential new client? Take Steve to talk through the tech upgrades …”

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            But that, to me at least, makes an argument even stronger for being open about salary. I mean, If Kathy is making less than Steve, but the fact is Steve has expertise in Llama manicures that Kathy doesn’t have, well, that’s the reason and what the manager can point to when asked about it. Now, if Steven has manicures covered, but Kathy has specialized expertise in Llama ear cleaning, well, manager, you have some explaining to do, and possibly a salary to increase.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        I don’t know if you’re saying that’s LadyL’s situation, but she describes it very differently. The strategy was not: “Pay me as much as you’re paying him, because.” It was that he “used his [salary] as proof she should be much more confident in her negotiations. He told her what types of things he used to justify his salary requests, and helped her strategize.” There’s nothing here about even mentioning his salary in the negotiations.

  5. Much Ado About Nothing*

    Employee’s shouldn’t be asking why their pay isn’t the same as someone else’s pay and making that the basis of their negotiation or ire. They need to be talking to their managers about their compensation structure, researching the industry to understand their fair market value, and working towards a salary that is fair to them. If they are not able to persuade their employer to pay them more, leave and find another who will. If they can.
    Individual performers can earn well more than managers, managers can earn more than department heads and that’s 100% ok because positions are different, performance varies, and non-salary compensation factors in. Saying I’m a “Senior” manager and should get paid more than a “regular” manager or I’m a Regional Director and should be paid for than a Director is neither here nor there. How good at you at your job, how much value do you bring, and, forgetting what anyone else makes, are you worth more or less than your salary? Then proceed accordingly.

    And as for gender? Same questions apply…are you, as an individual, being paid competitively for your contribution and performance? Should a women be paid the same as a man if they are in the same position, yes, if their performance merits it. Same goes for man….if they merit the same salary as a women in the same position, sure. But if one, regardless of gender, outperforms, they deserve more pay and more opportunities.

    The OP has stated that they negotiated early on and that it’s their belief that that head start was what created the gap. At least 5 years and multiple employees, plus turnovers and promotions…it’s not that simple. Definitely share information if that helps understand the bigger picture but for sure, they need to take charge of their own careers and drive for more pay, not because someone else makes more but because they want to grow their compensation package.

    1. Goldenrod*

      Employers should try harder to be fair in the initial salaries they offer, because women just don’t tend to negotiate as much. They may be very strong employees who offer a ton of value to the company – should they be punished forever just because they didn’t negotiate upon hire?

      Societal in how we (women) are raised create barriers for us and demanding our worth doesn’t always come easily to us. But we should still be paid fairly for our work!

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        And, as mentioned in comments above, women who attempt to negotiate for higher salaries aren’t successful as often as men, and are not seen in a positive light the same way men who negotiate are.

    2. Not Me*

      Women and minorities are less likely to receive the same pay as white men even when they negotiate. People discussing their pay and talking to their employer about discrepancies IS taking charge of their own career and compensation package. It’s taking action against an employer who is not making ethical or legal pay decisions which will hopefully lead to change and fair pay.

      Your comment decimates how impactful pay transparency can be.

    3. Threeve*

      So you think LW’s coworkers should have remained in ignorance of the enormous salary discrepancy, or shouldn’t let that impact how appropriate they consider their own compensation? Or am I misunderstanding?

      My salary being exactly reasonable for my level of seniority doesn’t matter if someone else’s is substantially higher for no good reason (and being a better negotiator 5 years ago is definitely not a good reason). I’m still right to find it unfair, and none of us should try to think in circles about why else they might be better than me so that I don’t question my compensation against theirs, only against the market. And if they’re male or white when I’m not, I shouldn’t close my eyes and pretend that couldn’t possibly be relevant.

      And unless you’re 100% commission-based, your value to a company is never quantifiable down to the dollar. If one person is paid on the slightly high-ish side of market value and another is on the low-ish side, it’s going to seem reasonable enough until you see the pattern where all the male or ethnic majority employees are on the high-ish side, and the female or POC employees are on the low-ish side. That’s what happens. All the time, everywhere salaries aren’t transparent.

      “Eyes on your own homework” is not/i> the right approach.

    4. Mary*

      How is “my colleague doe the same job (or less) and earns way more than me” NOT talking about “fair market value” though? That colleague is a data point, and since you know that their work and the context is exactly the same, they’re literally the most relevant comparison.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      The best market research is right their in your own department. It doesn’t matter to the company what the competitor down the road is paying, and unless you actually go get a competing offer, your fully transparent very best friend ever works there, or you are in HR or a HM, you won’t know the market.

      I don’t know the exact salary of my coworkers, but I know enough information to know what’s fair for me. I think people should know this bare minimum. I would never go to my management and say, well, Devin is getting paid $10k more than me, and I should get paid that, too, but I can see if I’m getting a fair performance review and percent raise and figure out what actions I need to take. That never involves invoking what is going on with someone else, but if you think you leveled up your work and get a 1% raise, you know it’s okay to raise this to management when you’re already at the bottom of the pile. If you know you’re the OP and at the top, and get a bad raise one year, maybe you assume that’s just equalization happening.

    6. SierraSkiing*

      But the closest market you have to tell you your fair market value is your peers at your company. Why wouldn’t you start there with doing your salary research? If I know Fred has done the same work as me about as well as me for about as long as me but he’s getting paid 10k more, then that is good information that my services are worth more to the company than I’m currently getting paid. Sure, maybe I’ll mention Fred’s pay and my manager will explain Fred’s actually doing higher level work than I realized, but it’s a good reference point.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ah the scent of a capitalist.

      It doesn’t matter, we have laws to make it illegal to pay willynilly and just simply “They’re better at negotiating!” and “they didn’t ask!” doesn’t fly when patterns are drawn and it’s shown that all the men or all the women in a company or department at the same level are paid more than the other class. So sure, you can keep thinking this way, that’s you’re right in our free market. But it’ll get you into trouble, so why not just do it right in the first place and save the risk for more important things like going to market with something cutting edge or something worth it.

      1. Perpal*

        A True Capitalist* wants the employees to be aware of the supply (wages) so they can adjust their demands appropriately, and avoid a distorted marketplace!

        *intentional True Scottsman reference

    8. PollyQ*

      What your coworkers make is an important data point — maybe the most important on — in what your “market value” is.

    9. TechWorker*

      Whilst I think knowing industry norms etc is all v useful data, the fact remains that knowing what *your* company is willing to pay for a particular role and level of performance is the best data of all. And yes, there are times when employees misjudge their own (or others) performance… but if they’re being realistic, it’s clearly useful data to have.

    10. Super Duper*

      The obvious place to begin “market research” on fair salaries is within your own company, seeing what your coworkers make. This kind of runaround putting all the blame on employees for not negotiating better ignores well-documented research on gender and racial bias. It’s a cop-out. There’s no good reason for employees to refrain from sharing salaries. It exclusively benefits employers with unfair pay policies, and perpetuates inequalities.

  6. MD*

    This is why you hire your employees at market rate, and create salary ranges for each of your hierarchy levels. So there!

    1. Massmatt*

      Exactly! It sounds as though this employer has failed on multiple levels. They allowed wider and wider pay discrepancies to creep in, did nothing to correct them, blundered in revealing the confidential information, and now seem to be doing nothing to address the problem while LWs coworkers seethe at him.

      This employer needs to apologize, and conduct a thorough overhaul of the salary structure. And seriously discipline the person who left such sensitive information in the photocopier. People get fired for less!

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I’m writing fan fiction in my head where they left that paper in the printer on purpose to expose injustice.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Apparently my employer does regular salary reviews and last year was my department’s turn. Several people on my team (including me!) got sweet raises totally out of the blue so that we are now in line with other similar roles! That’s how it should be done.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is why we review salaries every year during annual review. It’s really not hard and just built into the practice. So that we can see, right there if something looks amiss.

        I’m happy to see companies at least remedying them and doing their own internal audits like yours but seriously, they shouldn’t be letting it fall behind to the point that they need to give those raises since you’ve been going underpaid for X amount of time while you’re waiting for your department to be looked at on a salary review!

      2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Yes! I once worked for a large company that had acquired a number of smaller firms within a relatively short period of time, so salaries were all over the place. They brought in a consulting firm to help clean things up and a lot of us ended up getting nice raises to even the playing field. It was good of the company to do that- more companies should.

    3. Close Bracket*

      My employer does this, and I was *still* offered less money and a lower position in the hierarchy than less qualified, younger, male new hires.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        Right. There’s still a lot of room for discrimination within a salary range, and plenty of opportunity to misclassify folks into different ranges.

    4. tink*

      Salary bands are great until the only ones that get adjusted for COL/min wage raises are the ones at the bottom, leading to the uncomfortable scenario of people just starting jobs with lower/fewer requirements making the same as people ostensibly a few bands above them. That gets awkward pretty fast. (That said, generally I’m a fan of salary bands because you do know what to expect.)

  7. Sharikacat*

    Regardless of what circumstances led to the inequity, especially where the LW’s higher ups are making less than him, I’m moreso curious as to how the company plans to handle this.

    Assuming the base salaries were at least within reasonable ranges, I don’t see how the company would suddenly give a bunch of people a sudden raise to the tune of nearly $10k. Sure, the company was at the low end of the scale, but that’s how an *average* is calculated- some are higher, some are lower. There may have been a valid reason this company was on the low end of the scale.

    LW’s salary can’t be touched, but there may be ways to add extra responsibilities to his role to now justify the higher salary (would be very tricky if he has the same title as others who won’t have those responsibilities, so maybe not possible?). Would the company have a way to force him to transfer to a different role/office to draw a distinction?

    Or does the company do nothing, confident they’re legally in the clear?

    1. Not Me*

      Why can’t the LWs salary be touched? It’s also got to be way more than $10k if the closest person is making $10k less and is LWs superior. The employer certainly could lower LWs salary going forward (assuming they don’t have a contract, as most employees do not). I’m not saying that’s what I would recommend, it is an option though.

      1. pally*

        My salary got reduced by 10% when we lost a major customer.

        All management had to do was inform me that after X date, my new salary was 10% less.

        It stayed that way for years.

      2. pamplemousse*

        Giving a pay cut in order to pay other people on the team more is a terrible idea and should not be considered. It’s not like LW’s salary is the only other pot of money in the entire business that they could adjust in order to make this right.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I just posted this above, but my job absolutely gives people large off-cycle increases to ensure equity.

  8. Blue Dog*

    Boy, I would be reluctant to become the rallying warrior over something that didn’t concern me. It is sort of kicking your own employer in the teeth for paying you better than others. If it were me, I would probably look at the number, scoff, and say, “Yeah, right. Don’t believe everything you read.” And then deny, deny, deny.

    1. When's Friday again?*

      What a dishonest way to deal with your coworkers, and a surefire way to get them to resent you more!

      You *should* take to task an employer who is enacting unfair pay practices (i.e. “paying you better than others). And like Alison mentioned, in the US at least, the employer cannot legally take from OP’s salary just because the rest of their workers discovered their unfair practices. What a strange way to read this situation.

    2. Flying delivery cat*

      You are part of the problem. And it’s your prerogative to be part of the problem if that’s what you want. Just know that you’re part of the problem.

      1. Sparrow*

        Exactly! It absolutely *does* concern you if it’s going to impact your relationships with coworkers. Thinking otherwise is just…remarkably shortsighted. Wow.

    3. Bananers*

      Wow. That’s one strategy if you don’t have any interest in building and maintaining good relationships with your colleagues, in having or working toward a culture of honest and equitable treatment, or just generally in workplaces paying people properly. If you don’t have an interest in any of that, that’s your prerogative, but just know that it doesn’t say great things about you.

    4. Threeve*

      This person is claiming that something was an unlikely printing error because if it’s accurate then it’s deeply unfair in their favor and I’m understandably unhappy about it.

      Hmm, I wonder if I should be skeptical and start to doubt their integrity…

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Oh yeah, if someone tried to feed me a lie that obvious about what was right in front of me, I’d say something like “Really? How stupid do you think I am?” And then resentment would turn to absolute disgust.

    5. Blue Dog*

      Stirring the pot can be very dangerous to one’s career. Salary discrepancies can and do happen for a number of reasons. Some of them are illegal (race, sex, disability, etc.), some of them are innocuous (better negotiation up front) and some are justified (bringing skills to the table that other’s might not know about). OP might not have all the facts and I know I certainly don’t. If OP is SURE this is for an improper purpose, he or she should say something. I am just saying you need to be very sure of the facts before you lead a coup.

      1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        I don’t think “Hey, there’s some weird discrepancies here, what can we as a company do to remedy that?” qualifies as anything even vaguely like a coup.

        1. Quill*

          yeah, don’t you need at least two doors for that?

          (this is the only on topic, constructive sarcasm I can currently provide!)

          1. College Career Counselor*

            I believe the two-door (preferably slammed) minimum refers to a farce. ;-)
            I agree that the salary discrepancy issue should be brought up to the manager and/or HR with an eye toward making it more equitable for all.

        2. button*

          Not even that–Alison is just suggesting that OP be honest about their own pay history and how it came about, and let the coworkers use that information to advocate for themselves. Management might guess those details came from OP, but it’s a known fact that OP isn’t the one who leaked their original salary, so how much does that matter now, really?

          Furthermore, I’d argue 1) getting paid more for better negotiation isn’t innocuous–it’s higher compensation for something that has no bearing on OP’s value to the company, AND something that is often correlated with protected classes or otherwise disadvantaged groups. And 2) letting your coworkers seethe and/or lying to them could be just as dangerous to your career. It’s one thing to be paid more–as Alison says, intellectually they probably know it’s not OP’s fault, right now they’re just the face of the problem. But if OP turned around and acted with that lack of integrity? That’s a whole other thing. There’s no way that doesn’t poison your work relationships, which–considering you’re apparently all in the same industry and region–could have just as many ramifications down the line as pissing off someone who’s your boss today. Might as well make someone angry because you were standing up for your principles.

      2. Joielle*

        Well, it’s important to consider whether the OP is a different gender than the lower-paid colleagues. If so – better negotiation up front isn’t innocuous, and it actually doesn’t matter from an equal pay act standpoint (discriminatory intent isn’t necessary). And other federal laws apply to pay disparities based on race, age, religion, national origin, disability, and other things – so those are also important to consider, from a purely legal standpoint.

        And the OP didn’t mention any unusual skills that they’re bringing to the table, so I think we can safely say that’s not a factor. Plus… it’s a messed up way of looking at the world to realize you’re making more than people above you on the org chart and think “Wow, I guess I’m awesome!” rather than “Wow, that’s kind of a problem.”

        But regardless of how a pay disparity came about, it’s inequitable, and that’s concerning. If you’re in a position to do something about an inequity and you do nothing – or even worse, deny the problem exists – you’re part of the problem.

      3. Claire*

        So if OP isn’t SURE that this is for an improper purpose, then they should lie? How can everyone figure out if it’s for an improper purpose if people are lying?

        Incidentally…how exactly do you expect people to be absolutely sure that the reason is illegal? Do you actually need the CEO on record saying that they’re paying OP more for a protected class?

        As discussed numerous times in these comments, better negotiation up-front isn’t an excuse for this extreme of a salary variation, and I find it unlikely that OP is far more skilled than all of the other colleagues, including those two levels above, AND doesn’t realize it.

        You can just say that you don’t care about being treated unfairly if it’s in a way that benefits you, you really don’t have to dress it up as much as you have.

        1. dani*

          I can absolutely, 100% say that I do not care about being treated unfairly, as long as it benefits me.

          There I said it. I am also inclined to believe that a lot of these virtue signaling “everybody is equal on all standings” people feel the same way. They just won’t say it out loud because it does not fit their narrative.

          The fact is, most people look out for # 1, right wrong or indifferent.

          Reading these comments you would think everyone here is an absolute saint who is always looking out for the best interest of others before themselves.

          Sorry, but I call BS on 99% of it.

          1. Claire*

            Good! I’m glad you’ve admitted that you’re an inherently amoral person at best! The next step is realizing that actually, screwing other people over in a context such as the one OP describes would actually not help them very much in the long run (and definitely wouldn’t answer the question of how to heal the social gap between them), and then you might get to wondering how the labor movement ever existed if you’re under the impression that solidarity is a myth, but at least you’re not pretending to be a good person!

            I’m also not sure that people are either absolute saints or entirely self-centered to the exclusion of any sort of justice or morality, but sure, set up that dichotomy if you want.

      4. Close Bracket*

        You’re getting a lot of shit here, but I don’t think your approach is all that egregious. People are working themselves up into a righteous lather about how they would immediately call you a lying liar, but people in general are very bad at predicting how they would react in any given situation. I think they are writing fanfic about themselves. And frankly, you don’t know what you are stepping into when you see a salary disparity. Even my own starting offer that I posted about below, it’s entirely possible that the one guy is justified in getting the same offer I did based on his work (though not the seniority). I used to work with a woman who couldn’t get promoted, and I believed it was due to sexism until I worked with her and realized I wouldn’t have promoted her, either. Sometimes it is best to keep your head down and stay out of the line of fire. Your colleagues shouldn’t be firing at you in the first place, so I can’t criticize you for wanting to duck.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Just because one example in your experience was *not* sexism does not mean that sexism doesn’t exist.

        2. Claire*

          If Blue Dog had said that they would just say that they didn’t want to get into it, that’d be one thing, but they specifically said that they would lie–or at least, strongly imply something false. That does, in fact, make them a lying liar in this hypothetical situation.

        3. Tired of you*

          LOL

          What a brave white knight you are! Have a gold star for your devotion to defending the ignorant and the immoral.

          Your mom must be so proud of you.

      5. Super Duper*

        “Better negotiation up front” is often NOT innocuous, since women and minorities are penalized for negotiating while white men are rewarded. There’s no moral high ground in saying “Well, there’s probably a good reason for the disparities so I’m going to stay out of it.” That’s how discriminatory pay inequities grow and persist.

    6. Joielle*

      So you’d lie to your coworkers in order to help the company perpetuate an inequitable pay structure. Classy.

    7. Tellulah*

      That sounds like a really terrible way to repair the social rift, which is what the LW asked about. In fact, that would almost absolutely make it way way worse. Why would you suggest denying any of it?

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t necessarily fall in line with “be their champion and work towards getting them more.” but I’m hands down against “lie that the budget sheet they found is wrong.”

      Just stick with explaining that you aren’t sure what went on and encourage them to fight their own battle. no need to lie to someone’s face.

      Your employer is an important ally but so are your colleagues. When you’re looking for your next job and your former colleague is working there, has the ear of the employer you now want to be apart of and knows you’re a coward and a liar, that will come out. Then you can say goodbye to that opportunity. All over not being truthful that an employer isn’t paying attention to their salary bands the way they should, not a good choice.

  9. TS*

    “If you’re a man and the coworkers earning less than you are women, you should also tell your coworkers about the Equal Pay Act”

    The Equal Pay Act applies even if the LW is a woman and her coworkers are men.

    1. Sick and tired*

      But a) it’s much more likely to be the other way around, given the givens, and b) it’s a much bigger concern if the OP is a man and the underpaid colleagues are women, since structural sexism and inequity resulting from it is systemic. So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

  10. SDSmith82*

    So I am a “newish” member of the team I’m on at work. I came on in 2017, and like the OP negotiated a higher salary than some because of the certifications I had. Found out I was one of the higher paid people on the team/level I was on sort of by accident. Others don’t know it, and I keep quiet about it- but I also know that it’s not on me.

    It’s hurt me a little on a promotion based raise, but I’m still on the higher end because I do a good job and have earned additional certifications (which the lower paid people can also do, but chose not to, and yes, company pays for it). Still, I know if they ever found out- they’d be mad about it. Money issues make people ugly, even if the higher pay is merited (for the record, I’m female, and there are several males in similar roles that I am paid more than, so they’d be upset by that fact as well, because, well, that’s the nature of the business I’m in).

    1. Close Bracket*

      If you have certifications that other people don’t, then you are more qualified than they are, and your pay reflects that. People can be mad, but if they are upset, they are welcome to get the exact same certifications.

      1. andy*

        That depends on whether they know the certification would get them higher salary. If it is about certification being useful, the employer would want them to know that so that they are motivated to get the certification, right?

        1. SDSmith82*

          They do know about them, as my employer is great about pushing them. They just don’t want to spend the time to earn them. It’s part of the reason for raises, as well as bonuses for completion.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Those certifications are huge though – the company gets value from that knowledge so it makes sense they would be willing to pay you more.
      I was once told that a coworker got a higher offer than I did because he had a double major vs my major/minor. My major was accounting with a minor in finance and he majored in finance and history of rock and roll. We worked in the finance department at a manufacturing company. That made no sense since it brought no value to the company. Your certifications do.

    3. ElizabethJane*

      I found out I (a woman) was the lowest paid member on my (otherwise all-male) team. By about $15K. We’re a startup – we all started within a month of each other, doing similar roles – I was the analyst for blue teapots, and the others were analysts for red, green, and yellow teapots respectively, where each color makes up a roughly equal portion of our teapot business.

      When I asked for a salary review I did ask about additional qualifications and/or work experience that could justify why my coworkers made so much more than me. As far as I knew we all had similar educational and work backgrounds, and similar responsibilities. Had they come back with “Red, Green, and Yellow are all certified Teapot Analysts, you need a certification” I’d have been satisfied.

      Certifications and experience can justify a higher wage and if someone is mad about that they should be coached through how to get there. In the OP though it doesn’t sound like the certifications are the problem, just that this company has a jacked up pay system.

      At my company certifications and experience weren’t the problem and I did get my raise.

    4. Krabby*

      Your case is different because there is a very obvious and explainable reason behind the pay discrepancy. But in the LW’s case, the people being paid less are managers. It doesn’t sound like LW has certifications. It’s just very clear that the pay discrepancy is not about skills or the value of his/her work.
      I don’t disagree that money issues can make people mad, but the people in your example have a clear path to get to your salary, LW’s coworkers do not.

  11. RC Rascal*

    I would like to know if that higher ranking, lower paid employee is still going to be working there in a year. My guess is not. Nothing like this kind of information to put a job search in gear.

  12. Close Bracket*

    I was offered less than my less qualified, younger, male colleagues, and yes, I did negotiate. Yes, I am bitter as hell. No, I don’t blame them for earning more than me. I blame my ageist, sexist employer.

    1. Marni*

      I am forever grateful to my male colleague who let me know he was making 75% more than me in very similar jobs where I actually had more experience than him. It was contract work and I thought I was well paid but the discrepancy was eye-opening. I doubled my salary in my next gig thanks to his honesty.

  13. We Did This*

    Some things that work:

    Use a Google spreadsheet to allow colleagues to enter salary and whatever other pertinent information you can while also keeping it anonymous.

    Only access this spreadsheet through personal email accounts. (No company resources used!)

    Share information with anyone who wants it, even if they do not share in return. (Prevents accusations of favoritism.)

    Share drafts of negotiation letters. Let people customize at will, but if people share info on what works, note it in that Google doc.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      The cynic in me says that someone will take all of this information, download a copy, and go tell the boss(es) who’s “causing trouble.”

      Don’t put anything in writing that you don’t want to end up on the CEO’s desk.

      1. We Did This*

        Sure. And that’s why none of this advises anything illegal or unprofessional. There may well be consequences, but that’s where the strength in numbers and transparency come in. If retaliation does occur, then everyone will know.

        The point is not to keep it super-secret, but to engage in perfectly legal activity in a way that does not use the company’s resources or create an “in group.”

  14. Mommy MD*

    I’d let my coworkers know I negotiated a higher salary on hiring and then let it go. It’s up to each individual to bring their salary up to management if they feel they deserve more. OP should not be penalized or resented because they were smart during the hiring process.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I take issue with the idea that OP was somehow smarter than their coworkers during the hiring process. How do we know that some of their colleagues didn’t also try to negotiate higher salaries, but got turned down? How do we know OP didn’t just happen to catch the finance guy on a good day that made him more willing to agree to a higher salary? How do we know OP’s coworkers don’t belong to protected categories that tend not to get higher salaries even when they attempt to negotiate?

      I’ll agree with you that none of this is OP’s fault and that they shouldn’t be the target of their coworkers’ resentment over this. But to say that OP was smart during the hiring process implies that their coworkers were not smart. That OP did it right and the coworkers did it wrong and are at least partially to blame for their low salaries. And that’s not only not true, it’s a dangerous and discriminatory path to start down.

    2. Arctic*

      I negotiated my salary when I started and told it was just not done in my organization. And I had to accept what was on the table.

      My male co-worker who was hired a year after me negotiated for $10K more.

      While he is great, I had more relevant experience and a stronger academic history (which shouldn’t matter but does to our boss.)

      He is a good friend. I don’t take it out on him. But the idea that everyone is treated equally in negotiations is laughable. And women are looked down on for it more than men.

    3. Observer*

      And people should not be penalized because they were too desperate to negotiate, tried to negotiate and were turned down – especially if they were turned down because of gender or some other externality, or because they were given poor advice by people who they had reason to trust.

      Your assumption that the OP was smart and the other stupid is not really borne out by facts. Let’s face it, at least on of the coworkers was apparently SMARTER than the op – that person has gotten MORE promotions than the OP. So clearly no slouch.

      1. Mim*

        Exactly. They are supposed to be paid for the work they do, not how good of a salary negotiator they were at some point in the past.

        1. Office Blogger*

          This is not the real world. If someone is an excellent negotiator they may indeed get offered a higher salary. Coworkers are wrong to be resentful.

          1. anyone*

            They are wrong to be resentful of being paid less for the same (or possibly better) performance? Because someone was a confident bully in their negotiations? Your “real world” is a dystopia, regardless of its realness. Maybe work to change it rather than defend it?

    4. lost academic*

      They should not but the flip side is that no one else should be penalized for a failure to negotiate at that stage, it has time and again shown to disproportionately affect women and minorities for reasons unrelated to merit. Referring to it as “smart” suggests that not doing so is “stupid” and thus suggests that the failure to negotiate successfully is in fact a reason not to be fairly compensated for the same work.

  15. CupcakeCounter*

    There are a lot of things that can play into this as well. When I graduated from college it was the 2008 recession. I was able to get a job quickly but the pay was about $5k below what we had been researching for the market rate since I was slightly outside the metro area we were researching. Most places had hiring freezes, pay cuts, and no raises for several years when I started so getting a job in my field was a pretty big deal and so my attempts at negotiating were unsuccessful.
    A couple years later when things finally turned around, I got my first merit increase of about 2.5% shortly followed by an inline promotion (title bump and another very small increase). We also hired an intern that I had supervised and recommended. He came in with a starting salary much more in line with that market rate I had previously researched and even with several years with the company, I still wasn’t up to that rate. I brought the issue to my boss and he acknowledged the disparity but internal merits and inline promotion rates were capped so my best bet was to apply for an internal posting at a higher level and move up that way. Well everything at this place was based off your current rate so even after I finally got that new position, it was capped at a 7% increase. Guess what happened as soon as former intern hit the 1 year mark? He applied for and was hired into a higher level position and got the 7% increase very shortly followed by the annual merit & bonus. Once again he is making more than me at a lower level. This went on for a couple years until a great person at the company told me the only way to get where I wanted to be was to leave.
    He was right. I researched the market and found out what was fair and began applying. I got an offer for 25% more than I was making.
    I had another experience with this recently as well. While I was at that job, I received several excellent merit increases, COL increases, promotions, and economic realignments. I knew I was slightly under market but overall I was pretty happy with my salary. Please note that at the time I took that job, I had 5+ years experience post college graduation in my field.
    While I was at that job (just left), an employee who worked in an adjacent department was working on getting her degree. Shortly after she graduated, we had an opening in our area and she applied. She was technically not qualified since she did not have experience in our area but since she was a current employee the company allowed her to count her years of employment there as relevant experience (even though this new position had nothing to do with her old position…think teapot manufacturing and teapot marketing). She is very smart and had a great track record so got the job. Took a little longer to get her up to speed on certain things but overall she did a great job and was an excellent coworker. We became good friends and when I decided to leave 3 years later (total of 8 years at the company), she applied for my role. I thought she would do great at it so gave her a bunch of my notes and trained her on whatever I could get away with during my notice period.
    A couple of weeks after I left I get a text from her asking what my ending salary was. Apparently during the negotiations it came up that they could only offer her a 5% increase since “you and Cupcake already make about the same amount.” I didn’t think that could be correct since I had more experience when I was hired in than she does now, so I told her I what I was hired in at. Her reply was “No, they are saying we make the same now. I already make way more than that – I’m at X” and X was $1,000 less than what I was making. Our jobs were not equivalent in any way, mine was significantly more senior, but the company never adjusted the salary for the role she took down to entry level (previous person had held it for about 10 years and she didn’t negotiate since she was offered the mid-level salary which was far higher than what she was expecting).

  16. Observer*

    OP, whether or not you are covered by NLRA in terms of discussing your pay, one thing you should point out to your bosses if they get upset with you – If they don’t want people to discuss pay, they should not be that careless with that information. The minute someone left that salary sheet out, management lost any ability to keep people from discussing it. If they try, they are taking a significant risk.

    A few years ago, a teen was hired by a pizza place. She talked to her friend, who told her that HE was being paid more than her. She called to ask for the higher pay – and was promptly fired. So was her friend. This went viral. You can still pull this up if you google it. I don’t think any company REALLY wants to be in the news for this.

  17. Amethystmoon*

    There’s probably more than one reason why we’re supposed to use the “locked print” option at work. Essentially, it’s tied to our ID badges, so you can only get your documents printed out if you have your badge. It used to be tied to a pin number and then they changed it when they switched printer brands. Granted, this can’t be done in the past, but it’s an idea going forward.

  18. Fae Kamen*

    Thanks for addressing this topic again. Between this and the letter from the employer who refused to name salaries (https://www.askamanager.org/2020/02/i-ask-candidates-their-salary-expectations-and-dont-feel-bad-about-it.html), I am sort of confused about the space between valid salary negotiation and violating the EPA.

    I do understand that pay based on negotiations can lead to inequities because of differences in who negotiates (and perhaps more to the point, whose negotiations are considered). But given that, I don’t fully understand how an employer can both engage in negotiations and comply with the EPA. In the other post, Alison mentioned that pay differences based on seniority or merit are OK if provable; what kind of criteria or systems need to be in place to comfortably demonstrate that, especially when it comes to new hires? Sorry if this is a silly question, I think I’m thinking myself in circles. :)

  19. LET DOWN*

    “If you’re a man and the coworkers earning less than you are women, you should also tell your coworkers about the Equal Pay Act if they don’t already know about it and tell them you’ll support them in pushing the company to follow it. ”

    While I often do not find fault with your advice, here you are wildly off base. The act protects persons of BOTH sexes. If the OP is female and the coworkers are male then they are still protected. Your advice implies otherwise. A better phrasing would be “If your coworkers making less than you ate the opposite sex….”

    As for the OP’s situation, the two above OP would seem out of luck, they are no longer doing significantly the same job so the act would not apply to them anymore. Retroactive pay is only good for a short period. Newer employees are arguably being paid less based on seniority so the only ones this may apply to are those in the same position who have been there for the same tenure.

    Posted to a thread above by accident. This format doesn’t like lefties on phones :)

    1. Temperance*

      She’s not “wildly off base”. It is a sad fact in the US that men are often paid more than women for comparable work.

        1. Claire*

          Alison is correct though, even if she isn’t giving the entire truth. The Equal Pay Act protects people earning significantly less than people of the opposite sex for the same work, thus, if OP is a man earning far more than his female colleagues, that is in violation. The fact that that is also true if OP is a woman earning far more than her male colleagues doesn’t mean that it’s untrue to make the first statement only, especially given that in actual practice it’s much more likely for women to be underpaid than the other way around. I fail to see how it’s wildly off base to make a factually correct statement?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Good lord. The law applies in both directions, as I’ve talked about here previously. I’m more concerned about this situation’s disparity if it’s part of a broader, structural sexism, and my advice to the OP is to be particularly concerned if that’s the case.

    3. Perpal*

      I suppose the politically correct way of phrasing it would be “if you are of a different protected class than your coworkers, you should also tell your coworkers about the Equal Pay Act…” etc etc :P

      1. Claire*

        The Equal Pay Act only refers to gender, actually–I think race is covered by Title VII, and I’m not sure about other protected classes. You can legally pay disabled people less than minimum wage, so I’m assuming there’s no law on the books for pay equity based on that class.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Yeah, the law does apply in both directions. But it’s far less likely for a man to be paid significantly less than his female counterparts when they all have equal education and experience. Even in fields that tend to have more women than men, it’s still not as likely for the men to be underpaid as it is for the women. So while the law technically does apply both ways, the danger is not the same and it’s not discriminatory in any way for Alison to post the more realistic of the two dangers.

    5. Observer*

      Please. Alison didn’t say that the law only applies in one direction. She simply pointed out that if the disparity breaks down in this manner (and I would be VERY surprised if the OP were female), then there is a very high probability that it’s discrimination outlawed by the Equal Pay act. That does not mean that if it breaks down by gender, but in the reverse it’s OK. And Alison doesn’t imply it. She simply addresses the (far) more likely scenario.

    6. Sick and tired*

      What a ridiculous way to carry on. Get a grip. You’re embarrassing yourself on the internet.

  20. mayfly*

    I was underpaid due to similar issues mentioned here (lack of negotiating skills, started during the recession). A few years back, I come to find out that junior fresh-out-of-grad-school hires were being paid about what I was making two levels up. A boss tried to explain this discrepancy by saying I had taken “too many maternity leaves” while being employed at the company (!).
    While he was wrong (my pay and position had increased more after having kids), it did have the benefit of getting a quick pay increase.

    1. Interviewer*

      “Had taken too many maternity leaves” is the kind of language that gets quoted at depositions and trials. Good grief.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Right? He may as well have said “it’s inconvenient for us that you have a uterus.”

      2. Observer*

        Which is probably why it resulted in a quick pay raise. HR and Legal must have been having a collective OMG moment when they heard that.

  21. Krabby*

    Every company that I have worked for where they tried to pull this bullroar, it eventually blew up in their faces. Yes, the company may get away with paying people as little as they could for a few years, but people talk and eventually it comes out.
    Then the department implodes, half of them quit. It always happens and I don’t understand how managers still push back when HR points this pattern out.

  22. SusanIvanova*

    Way back before Google was even a gleam in a grad student’s eye, there were three of us in our Silicon Valley company who were woefully underpaid because it was our first or second post-college job and our first in Silicon Valley. And the VP of Engineering, who had asked us about salary requirements, had owned his home since the 70s so he had no clue what the cost of living was. He’d asked us our salary requirements, and he did at least boost it somewhat, but taking something that’s reasonable for Texas and boosting it by 50% still leaves you spending half your salary on rent.

    When the CEO found out by accident, she made sure we got the max raises possible until we were caught up.

  23. Tink*

    Letter and answer are succinct and informative. Maybe send it to the printer and forget to collect it…..

  24. Alex*

    I think this letter speaks to the OP a week or two ago who insisted that it was in her best interests to pay her employees as little as possible if they didn’t negotiate.

    Can we consider this exhibit A as to why she was wrong?

  25. Dragonfly*

    I doubt it is on the letter writer to share their history with other employees, particularly if that will mean volunteering the information before they have even been asked any questions. The colleagues ought to show their willingness to try to rectify any disparity by going directly to the management with their queries and grievances.

  26. Jerm*

    These pay discrepancies exist all the time in the federal government. For civil service positions, your base salary will most likely follow you to a new job, if that base salary is higher than the starting pay. Old roommate was paid over $100,000 salary while working as an executive assistant as a GS 13. She moved to a GS 11 contributer role in an area where she had no experience, and continued to receive that salary, plus pay differentials for non standard work hours. Highest pay for a GS 11 is about $93,000, but it starts in the mid $60s. This happens all the time.

    1. soon to be former fed really*

      Thirty-two year fed here. This does not happen all the time, as few people voluntarily take a downgrade. What does happen is abuse of the award system to get around the rigidity of the grade/step system. Managers give quality step increases (these are the best because your base pay increases) and monetery award to their pets while ignoring the contributions of the staff they don’t like. I had to stop looking at the awards database to avoid getting upset. At least it is all published.

  27. Didn't Negotiate*

    I’m in the opposite situation to OP. I didn’t negotiate my salary initially, and I am still paying the price for it. My colleagues, hired shortly after me with similar responsibilities, are making around 10K more than I am.

    My colleagues are awesome. They insisted that I complain to management, and gave me advice on how precisely to do it. They even urged me to refuse additional responsibilities, until the matter gets rectified. (Note: in my line of work I can get away with this; this might not be true for everyone!)

    I 100% agree with Alison’s advice here. Take your colleagues’ side. If you have the standing, tell your boss that they deserve to be paid as well as you, and ask why they aren’t. Then, if you get an unsatisfactory answer, help your colleagues figure out if the company has any formal grievance procedures available to them.

  28. Enginear*

    One piece of advice my dad gave me when I gradated college and was about to start my career, get the highest starting salary cause that will bump up faster with raises over the years. That advice plays true to this reader’s story.

  29. Dogs*

    I once saw a study speaking to how employees hired during recessions end up earning significantly less long-term, because their starting salary is less. Bringing up a study like this might be helpful, to help bring home that it really is down to the initial starting salary. I think people are a lot less likely to resent you personally for a starting salary.

  30. Nacho*

    Related question. Every time my office gives out yearly raises or quarterly bonuses, they tell us that this is confidential and not to talk about them with others. I know this is illegal, but is it worth it to point that out if I don’t feel like I’m being treated unfairly compared to my coworkers? I don’t want to cry hypothetical foul on behalf of other people who might or might not be being discriminated against, but it still rubs me the wrong way because I know that’s the kind of thing that creates situations like OP, with one person making a lot more than others for bad reasons.

    1. Claire*

      You don’t necessarily have to bring it up in a confrontational way–you can just push back gently against the directive not to talk about your compensation with others. For example, when your boss says, “Nacho, for your great work this year, we are giving you a raise of 75%, but you cannot talk about this with your coworkers,” you can say, “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but according to the National Labor Relations Act, it’s actually illegal to forbid employees from discussing compensation for each other, and I would hate for the company to get in trouble for violating that,” or something along those lines. The key is to assume that of course, your employer wants to follow the law and proceed accordingly (even if they don’t actually) and to frame your concern as being “we could get in trouble for breaking the law even though it was absolutely accidental!!!!” as opposed to “you are breaking the law”. Alison has some useful scripts for that kind of conversation on several of her posts.

      (I’m assuming you’re in the USA, otherwise the NLRA doesn’t apply.)

  31. Elbe*

    I think it’s a mistake for the LW to attribute this to negotiation skills. The LW can acknowledge the current situation without trying to guess at a reason.

    Negotiating is great, and some people are particularly good at it, but it’s not like a person can MAKE someone else value them or their work. A person can present all the facts that would convince a reasonable person and still not get a fair raise if your manager doesn’t want to give it to you.

    Some can do the same work, present the same facts, push for the same goals, and still end up with less than a coworker. This happens all the time for women and minorities.

  32. Kona*

    Call me cynical, but it’d probably be easier to find a way to let go of the OP than to raise up everyone else’s salary…

    My advice would be to be good at your job, keep your head down, and have your eye out for other options.

  33. Will never complain about my boss again. . .*

    . . .and I am going to tell him that.

    I am a middle aged woman working in a predominantly male field (80%/20%). In our company we get paid on production only (straight percentage). I have the highest percentage in the office. Part of that is experience level and quality of work and part is tenure with the company. A few years ago, due to increasing administrative costs, the base percentage for someone with my qualifications was reduced slightly–but I was left at my current level (I’m not an employee, so I believe I could have been reduced if the owner of the company was inclined to do so). One of my male colleagues has been trying to get a bump to my level and has been unsuccessful. I have wondered if I should advocate on his behalf for the increase–so far I haven’t. He has considerably less time with our company and less experience. In addition, I really don’t know what his work product is like. He may require a little more supervision or hand-holding.

    Luckily, our business is pretty transparent about percentages–people within the same company and other companies will readily discuss what their percentages are and what that pay includes. It keeps everyone honest.

    Just thought I would comment as a higher paid woman in a quandary about advocating for a lower paid man. Probably not a situation that happens very often.

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