did I make a mistake by sharing my salary with a coworker?

A reader writes:

I have always believed that knowledge is power, but when it comes to salaries, is there ever a reason to keep such things quiet?

For my entire career, I have stayed in the dark about what my coworkers were earning and likewise did not share my salary either. This is the unspoken rule of etiquette everywhere I have worked, and my bosses have always been coy about sharing pay ranges/bands, so it’s always been hard to know how I stacked up in terms of compensation.

Last year, many of my colleagues were laid off and, while I survived the cutbacks, the impact on my personal well-being was significant. With our reduced staffing, I took on the workload of an entire team, and the stress and insane hours (which were already high when we were fully staffed) quickly grew unmanageable. A few months ago, I jumped at another opportunity and I am happy with my decision.

Upon leaving my (now former) company, a trusted friend/coworker was offered my job, which should have been a rather large promotion for him. However, recently we were catching up over lunch and he said that his raise had not been very much at all. He did not state his income, and I’ve always suspected that he made much less money than I did, but I was surprised he did not get a hefty raise considering the level of work he assumed by taking on this new position.

So I decided to come right out and tell him what I had been making in that same job. Why not, right? I no longer work there and thought this information might be helpful to him in negotiating additional raises. But, his face when I told him was … ghastly. He expressed that he was making significantly less than that, and the gap seemed so wide that even a huge raise for him would not put him anywhere near my salary.

Did I make a mistake? Is this a case where having this knowledge was (unintentionally) harmful vs. helpful? Obviously what’s done is done, but I worry that his discontent in his job will grow now, because even if he does manage to use the information I gave him to get a (much-needed) bump in pay he’ll still be stuck with all the additional drama and responsibility of this position while knowing he isn’t earning what he could/should be. It made me wonder if I should stay mum about this topic when speaking with other friends in the future. Is salary simply too taboo to discuss in polite company?

Noooo! Don’t conclude that.

You did the right thing by sharing your salary information with your colleague.

It is never to a worker’s advantage to be left in the dark about what a company is willing to pay — and especially what they did pay — for a particular job. It is always better for people to have more information about pay than less.

That doesn’t mean the person you share salary info with will never find it upsetting! It is upsetting to learn that a predecessor was making mountains of money more than you are. Being upset makes sense!

For the sake of thoroughness, I will note that sometimes people have bad reactions to this sort of news that aren’t constructive — like resenting the higher-paid colleague rather than blaming the company. That could happen! It still wouldn’t mean you’d made the wrong choice in sharing the info with them.

Shining light on companies’ pay practices — specific ones, like “in this role I was earning $X,” not just broad salary bands — is how salary inequities get discovered and addressed. They don’t always get fixed — but even when they don’t, people having more info is a good thing because it helps them make better decisions for themselves, whether that decision is “keep pushing” or “sue because this seems linked to race or gender” or “leave for a better job” or “file away this info about the market and the company for a later time.”

Treating salary discussions as taboo benefits employers and hurts workers. Keep talking about it.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 232 comments… read them below }

  1. Loulou*

    I’d say his reaction only illustrates that OP did the right thing! His level of surprise clearly indicates that he had no clue what others were making before OP told him.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      This, absolutely! Even if this pushes him to leave, it means you helped him to take the initiative to find a position at a company that will pay him what he’s worth.

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        This was exactly my thought. Employers are trying desperately to hire right now. Hopefully this will be the impetus for him to seek new employment and much better compensation.

    2. kiki*

      Yes! The reaction isn’t because OP was wrong to tell him, the reaction is because the company is bad to be paying an employee so little compared to the former occupant of that job (who was also paid too little to be doing the work of a whole team).

    3. Atalanta0jess*

      THIS THIS THIS!!! His reaction is EXACTLY the reason that it’s good to tell him. He had no idea what he could and should be making. He’s RIGHTFULLY appalled at the company’s gall at paying him so little. He is at risk of RIGHTFULLY being dissatisfied.

    4. Anon for this*

      Very much this.
      I was flabbergasted to learn how little a fellow team member who just quit was making. I’m now motivated to quit because any place that feels my coworker doesn’t deserve an equitable salary is not a place I want to continue being employed at.

    5. Your local password resetter*

      Right! It feels like OP is making a common mistake: telling people about a problem does not mean you are responsible for that problem, or for people’s negative reactions to it.

      You didn’t make your coworker upset, the people who underpaid him did. And coworker is right to be upset about that, and can now try to deal with that problem.
      Blissful ignorance is highly overrated.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Yep! “Someone was upset” doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Sometimes it means something is now right. “No one will be upset” is not usually the goal here.

        That’s even allowing that maaaaybe there’s a real reason for the inequity. Like, say LW has a doctorate and Friend did not finish college, and so there will be parts of the work the company will need to give to someone else, so Friend really won’t be doing everything LW was doing, plus his education level does not command the same salary. If you squint from a distance, you can see how we got here.

        But A) Friend should still be aware of the difference and why it exists, and B) I really had to stretch to come up with a scenario. Odds are way better that Friend is being lowballed.

    6. JustaTech*

      Yes exactly this. I had the same situation and I can’t imagine what my face looked like when my coworker told me the difference in our pay (ask she was leaving). I wasn’t mad at her at all; I was upset that I was *still* having my chain yanked by upper management.

    7. Office Hamster*

      Yes, for sure! I’m a freelancer but I always assume collaborators (through the same agency) are making similar rates. I recently got that ghastly face when I found out one of my peers makes $30/hr more than I do. It’s horrible to hear, but good to know (I asked for a bump that day).

    8. selena*

      The co-worker probably was telling themselves ‘i must be imagining things when it seems like my coworkers are living larger’ and ‘everyone knows those salaries on glassdoor are nonsense’ and maybe even got told by management ‘we cannot give you a raise because it would be unfair to your colleagues’

      That colleague is better of for knowing they are taken advantage off, even if it hurts in the moment.

  2. H*

    You did this person a huge favor. I remember a male colleague who I trained who came out of grad school a year after I did (same field and therefore I had one year more experience) making 1-2K more than me annually because he started in 2015 instead of 2014. He told me and I am glad he did. I was livid! Part of this led to a market analysis of all department salaries where I went up by $5K annually.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Yup. I started my first post-college job in early 2008 when there were 50 applicants for every job. I took what I was offered. The graduating class 2 years later came in at $5k more that I was making.
      And no…the company did not bring me up to that level.
      And yes…I left that company.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Seriously, as far as I’m concerned, getting paid less because you started in a slower market is no different than basing current salary on that of a past job–it should always be based on what the job is worth *now*, not what it was worth five years ago.

      1. Lab Boss*

        If salaries should be raised as a matter of course when the market heats up, doesn’t it follow that they should be regularly lowered again when the market slows down? H started in a down year and her colleague who started a year later in a hot year was getting paid $1K more, so on the surface it seems like H’s salary should have been increased to pace what new hires were commanding. Then again, if H had started in the hot year and a year later the market was down, should H’s salary have been reduced to reflect the lower rate for new hires? After all, that’s what the job is worth now, regardless of the higher rate it commanded a year ago.

        I’m hoping I’m way off base with this, because the idea seems really icky to me- but something also feels off about always raising salaries when the job market gets hot but not lowering them when the market goes down. I guess maybe a system where new hires in down markets start low and go up when the market gets better, to match all the people who already have been through a hot-market-cycle of raises?

        1. Your local password resetter*

          In theory, yes.
          In practice, lowering salaries is very different from raising them. It can have big knock-on effects on people’s lives, while raises are easy to accomodate.

          Also, it’s in the company’s own interest to lower wages at the expense of employees. So any option to do so will be ripe for abuse, which isn’t a problem with raises.

        2. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

          I think the more appropriate way to counteract slower economic conditions is to reduce salary increases in down years, not reduce wages.

          Employees should get paid more for their tenure for myriad reasons. One major reason is practical: if you don’t pay tenured employees more (in any level of work), then your tenured employees will leave when there’s a hot market and wages increase. Or, they will leave for a mid-career job instead of staying with you midcareer. Then, you’ve lost a worker with the exact skills your business needs and you will end up with a workforce full of very junior people.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Also: A lot of other things don’t follow the same trends as markets. Rents and mortgages don’t conveniently trend downward as soon as job markets cool.

          1. Gumby*

            Rents and mortgages don’t conveniently trend downward as soon as job markets cool.

            If you are in the middle of a lease, then probably not. But in general? They can. Rents in the SF Bay Area dropped in both the dot com bubble-burst era and quite a bit during the pandemic. Maybe the effects were more noticeable because rents were so high to start with? Or maybe the rental market here is just wackadoo. But I definitely know at least 3 people who specifically moved during the pandemic so they could get into one of the few cities with rent control around here at the bottom of the rental market. Average rents dropped by $1000/month or more.

          1. The OTHER other*

            Bingo. Companies don’t generally lower everyone’s pay during down years (particularly not for C-suite executives—their compensation often INCREASES a during down years), but they lay people off. Cutting 10% of their workforce’s salaries to zero is equivalent to reducing pay for rank-and file employees. And salary/hiring freezes likewise crimp salaries for those low on the totem pole.

          2. Daffy Duck*

            Yup, the market slows down and the contracts dry up. Companies lay off the people who do that work, maybe keeping their best performers to cover the work they do have. If the market heats up again they will rehire.
            Some professions have huge swings and saving for the downtimes or pivoting to different work is considered key to professional survival.

        4. Lab Boss*

          Good points, all. @Spicy, good point about reducing increases- limiting raises would allow inflation to “lower” wages to match the lower market without actually lowering numbers (especially since we don’t usually see wild year-to-year swings in the economy). @Cold Fish: too true- my point wasn’t that companies never do things to reduce wage costs, but rather that something seemed off about assuming wages would automatically go up with hotter markets but that going down should only be a last resort.

  3. Chc34*

    My old company would every so often raise the base salary they gave to new hires, but they would never then go and make adjustments for people who had been there for a while. It resulted in things like me making the same salary as someone who had been there for fifteen (!) years longer than I had. No one knew about this for years because no one talked about their salaries. During my last week, I wrote my salary on a whiteboard on my office door, and I know at least two people took that information and used it to get raises. Two of my coworkers found out that an employee with no experience was hired at a lower level than they were for the same salary and used that information to get raises as well. Always, always, always talk about your salaries, because even if the company won’t budge on raising them, for some people it might be the impetus to go find a better-paying job elsewhere.

    1. Not a cat*

      I used to work for a company that for a few years was paying female salespeople 10K less than male salespeople. So, gross.

  4. Enough*

    To add. A difference in wage between an experienced worker and one who is new to that position is not unusual or even between those with different years of experience at that position. But it should not be so significant to make you wonder if the company is having financial probl e.s.

  5. Hacker For Hire*

    I know this should be obvious, but if your ex-colleague was shocked and disgusted by the salary inequality, that’s your ex-company’s fault, not yours.

    OP, you did the right thing. Kudos, and keep sharing info about salaries. This will only help equity in the workplace.

    1. Hey Nonnie*

      I have to shake my head at the level of propaganda that gets people to feel guilty about sharing salaries rather than outraged that the company is trying to get away with something. OP wasn’t the one who lowballed their colleague, so we should all examine why there is that impulse to feel like it was their own fault, as if they engineered this discrepancy themselves, rather than putting the blame where it belongs.

      The taboo was created on purpose, by management to undercut the power that workers have. It comes from the same mindset as union busting.

      1. The OTHER other*

        I remember one company I worked at went so far as to claim it was ILLEGAL for employees to share salary information. It was an absurd and ridiculous thing to say, but many coworkers actually believed it.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          this is why it is supposed to be mandated that company’s have wage and employment laws posted in their communal space – I wish more people read those posters, where some of the more egregious “it’s illegal” lies are bald-faced countered.

          I once dragged my HR and manager down to look at one when they said “we’ll mail you your paycheck when we get around to it” at a lay off. No, you will get it for me now, because now is my last day, and you are the ones making it so (obviously, I lived in a state where payment on last day worked was required, and they couldn’t have waited until next pay period legally).

          I feel like that should be a class offered in high schools – your employment rights are “__________ and here’s how you go about finding out what they are if you have questions”

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Yes, that class should be at least offered Sophomore/Junior year, since that is when many states allow teenagers to legally be hired part-time at companies like fast food or retail stores. There should also be financial literacy classes offered at about the same time.

            1. Filosofickle*

              Late 80s in Arizona, there was a required class to graduate high school that was all about financial literacy. I wonder if they still offer that? Most probably weren’t paying attention but if they were they got a early education in micro & macro economics: everything from “guns and butter” to balancing a checkbook and understanding compound interest. One of the most useful things I took in high school.

          2. Texan In Exile*

            I was so annoyed at the episode of The Good Wife where all the admins went on strike to force the firm to pay them overtime. (As a policy, not that the firm acknowledged but did not pay the OT.)

            I was yelling at the screen, “The law already requires them to pay overtime! Call the Department of Labor!”

            I also wondered about the break rooms where the writers work – is that information not posted there? Did not one person on that episode know that the law already requires OT for hourly non-exempt people?

            1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

              Complicated. High-level administrative professionals in companies where most workers are salaried are often misclassified as exempt. And legal admins have very specific skillsets (they don’t just get coffee), so they can skirt this line even though it’s wrong. And it’s really hard to fight a misclassification for work like that. Source: I’m at my first nonprofit job as an admin where I’m hourly and I’m 10 years into a career. Every other admin job I’ve had I’ve been likely misclassified salaried

              1. MarniWriters rooms*

                To answer Texan’s other question, I’ve never seen those posters in the A kitchen at a Writers Office in my career, unless that Writers Office was in a shared space with the production office. TV Writers Offices are very casual. They’re usually in temporary spaces, it’s more like a Clubhouse than a corporate office, most of the writers are paid an episodic fee rather than a weekly salary, and the hours are set by the show runner day by day. If you need a sick day or to be out of the office for something it’s usually no problem, but nothing is formalized and everything is at the discretion of the show runner. Most people limit their vacation to “hiatus,” which is to say the unpaid time between jobs, otherwise known as unemployment.

                Writers rooms absolutely casually break labor law all the time unknowingly. When I was an assistant I worked way more than 40 hours for a flat salary, and had no idea that wasn’t appropriate. Assistants are much better informed now, and even unionized a few years ago! But they still work long hours, and often for less money than I made back then….

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I have a coworker who started working in the 1970s. It was very much corporate culture to fire people for talking about salaries. Some time in the last five years, she said that at most company, employees were not permitted to talk about salaries. I said, that was true in the 1970s and 80s but it now violates federal law.
          “Well, that’s stupid. All it does is make people upset.”
          “Yes, it makes employers upset. They can’t perpetuate institutional racism and sexism by keeping silent.”
          and I suggested she read AAM!

        3. Ash*

          Aren’t there some industries that are exempt from those protections? Like if you’re a farmworker or a domestic worker (assuming you are employed by a company rather than independently).

        4. JustaTech*

          I had my HR rep tell me that it was illegal for my coworker to share her salary with me.
          “No it isn’t, it is legal by state law. It is illegal to prevent non-management employees from sharing their salaries.”
          “Well, it’s inappropriate and unprofessional.” Uh huh, sure.

          The HR rep then tried to tell me it was illegal to tell me what my salary band was. So then I had to quote that law to her too. It wasn’t a great day.

          1. Ginger Baker*

            I was on a Because Pandemic call with most of the admin team and our manager told us as part of a presentation about “professionalism” that we should not discuss salary. Even more concerning, she was reusing slides that she normally used for a special entry-level-employees program we run, aka folks just entering their first post-college job. I emailed her an article while the meeting was happening explaining how this is illegal, emailed my HR rep the same, had a lengthy call with my HR rep later that week, and logged on to the next meeting in time to hear her walk that back for everyone. In NO way was I going to let that slide (even though I had not quite been prepared to push back in the moment on a call of 50+ people!)

        5. QueenoftheWorld*

          My company keeps telling us that. They “remind” us during our yearly evals to keep our annual raises, salary info, and bonuses to ourselves and not share it. I want so badly to “remind” them that that’s illegal to tell me that but I don’t want to lose my bonus, paltry as it is, because it’s entirely based on how much the owner likes you so I don’t want to make waves over this. I smile and don’t say anything.

  6. Box of Kittens*

    I just got a new job (using AAM tips, thank you Alison and commenters!!) and will be seeing a significant pay bump, a 20% raise over my current salary that will put me right about market rate for what I do. The pay isn’t the main reason I was looking, but I was increasingly aware that even though we got cost of living raises, I was leaving money on the table every year I stayed here at my current job (I start my new one next week). When I put in my notice, my supervisor asked if I would stay for more money. I wouldn’t and I said that, but didn’t share what my new salary will be when she mentioned that she didn’t know if the company would be able to match my new salary, but felt she had to ask.

    I would like to start being more transparent about money even though it’s difficult because it’s still socially taboo, but are the rules different when you’re talking with a supervisor? I didn’t want to share my new salary because while pay absolutely matters, I made the decision to leave for other reasons. But my current company is very low-paying, and it makes a little sense as a not-for-profit, but I know for a fact that they are going to have a hugely hard time replacing me if they don’t raise the salary for this position (and might have a hard time even if they do, but that’s just the job market right now). Should I have shared this with my supervisor??

    1. Observer*

      I see no reason not to share. Even if they can’t meet it, they need to really understand what their competition is.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The nonprofit job I left this summer just reposted my job for 10k more than I was making. I was the second person in a row to leave that just and specifically cite pay as a driving reason. Absolutely share. Even if it’s not the reason you left, they should know how they’re stacking up against competition – and might not be doing that research themselves.

    3. Kyrielle*

      It should be your choice, based on whether you want to and think they’d appreciate it. If I did share, I might say, “I didn’t leave for pay reasons, but my new job is giving me $X if you wanted to get data on the current market” or the like.

    4. anonymous73*

      I think for your particular situation, it would have made sense to share your new salary with your former supervisor as well as your other reasons for leaving (if you didn’t) since it sounds like she would have been receptive to listening and attempted to make changes in the future. But IME, “exit” interviews are pointless. The company has an agenda and unless there’s an egregious act that can’t be ignored, they rarely make any significant changes once a person leaves.

    5. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

      “But my current company is very low-paying, and it makes a little sense as a not-for-profit”

      This is a capitalist, sexist, misogynist lie in the nonprofit sector that you should resist at every level. Nonprofit work is work, and it should be paid fairly. Hopefully your new position pays fairly.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes to all of this. You may see less extravagant perks and bonuses in nonprofit work, but there is absolutely no reason to accept “very low-paying” compensation for your work.

      2. Box of Kittens*

        From what I’ve seen in my area, the new position does! Pay is not the main reason I was looking but knowing I was so below market rate put some pep in my step while I was applying. We have super high turnover and it’s way past the point where management has needed to raise pay. But that’s beyond my pay grade. Lol.

    6. Happy Lurker*

      Eh, I am going against the grain and saying that if supervisor really wants to know what the position pays, they can research it. I regularly research different pay scales both nationally and regionally so that I can keep abreast of changing rates of pay for different positions. Supervisor took the lazy way by asking you. They should really open up indeed and other sites and do their own research.

      1. Box of Kittens*

        I hope they do! I have a feeling they may not even replace me, or will try to get another me (new grad with no experience who will accept the low pay). If I was the CEO, I’d want to hire someone with 8-10 years experience to replace me (and that’s what they should have done when hiring me 5 years ago to be honest) but if they want to start back from scratch that’s their prerogative!

    7. Quinalla*

      You don’t have to share, but yes I shared my new salary with my previous boss when I left so he had a better idea of where the market was at. He had a good starting salary, but really had no clue what to pay people with experience. Sometimes it is not safe or worthwhile to share, but if you have a decent relationship – go ahead and share if you want to. It may help others who are still there.

    8. AnotherLibrarian*

      I think you should do what makes you comfortable. I will say that as a supervisor, I really appreciate it when staff are willing to share things like this with me, because it has given me ammunition when trying to get a reasonable salary or raises for folks. However, I also think there is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable sharing that information.

  7. Polly*

    I had this in my first job! My male coworker told me his salary over drinks one night. Then I told him mine (quite a bit lower, and not for *good* reasons). The next day he came over and apologized to me because apparently his SO, who had been there, told him off about it when he got home. I said not at all, thanked him, and spent my next two years loving my job but hating the salary and conspiring to change one of those things. I very close to succeeded, it was about to be signed off… and then the whole lot of us got laid off. Oh well!

    1. Hey Nonnie*

      It’s appalling that it took TWO YEARS to (almost) succeed. If they couldn’t give you a valid reason why you were making less than your male colleague, they had an obligation to rectify the difference immediately. Or to explain to the EEOC why they believed they didn’t have to.

  8. Emi*

    “I worry that his discontent in his job will grow now”

    Yes, this is a real possibility! It’s called agitation! It’s a good thing!

    1. Kiko*

      As it should be. This person was shafted and was taken advantage of by not being offered a salary in the same band as you.

      It’s been a wonderful few months for workers at the moment. Let’s make sure to keep it up and continue this discourse. Thank you for doing your part, OP!

  9. Jen*

    I think you did the right thing here but only because you are no longer working there. If you were still working there, I think you’d be bringing unnecessary drama on yourself.

    Some people do not know how to handle this type of information. This summer we got our raises and I was quite happy with mine (I also got a promotion) and my coworker was very displeased with hers. We are on the same team but I am senior to her, with more experience and education. When I did not openly disclose my raise percentage or pay, she went to HR and slyly asked them what the salary range was for my position, feigning interest in moving up herself.
    When I came in the next day she said “if I was making what you’re making, I wouldn’t be upset either!” anddddd brought it up almost daily for weeks.

    All this to say, I still don’t support sharing salaries, unless we’re alllllll sharing salaries. Don’t make it awkward if you don’t have to!

    1. Observer*

      Your coworker is an idiot. But your attitude is just wrong. There is nothing wrong with asking about salary bands, nor with HR sharing that information. Because, guess what? It’s a reasonable piece of information to have when considering whether to take on the work involved in aiming for a move into a higher pay band. And it’s simply unfair to withhold that information.

      The fact that your coworker was just looking for ammunition for snark doesn’t change that. Giving people the information they need to make good decisions for themselves is NOT “unnecessary drama” even if it’s “unwanted”.

      1. Jen*

        Lolllllll ok, my attitude is that I’m worried about myself. I’ve been on the other side where I’m the one getting screwed too. Still don’t support it. I’ve never seen it cause anything but problems among co-workers.
        We don’t even have the same title…she went to HR under false pretenses (that she was interested in my position), because I didn’t want to share my salary or raise info with her. That’s my choice. If you want to scream your salary from the rooftops, that’s your choice.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Your coworker shouldn’t have harassed you, but it’s GOOD that HR shared the salary band. It would help everyone if companies did that more transparently. The only person making it awkward was your coworker, and you should have shut her snarking down; that has nothing to do with openness about compensation.

          1. Jen*

            I think if they want to publish salary bands for all the positions, that’s fine, and clearly my coworker was in the wrong.
            The entire situation just made me uncomfortable and I attempted to not share my salary/raise info with her as I knew it would upset her. It took until I was announced as her boss for her to let it go…..which is the entire reason I didn’t want to share my 12% raise against her 5% raise.

            1. JB*

              So because you had a negative interaction with an unreasonable person, nobody should ever share their salary with coworkers?

              By that token, really, none of us should have jobs at all, because it’s quite easy to end up in a position where you have negative interactions with unreasonable people just by going about business as per usual.

              It sounds like somehow you blame her being upset with you on the fact that you got the raise, like you felt guilty for getting the money. Maybe you should examine that. Because it’s quite clear from here that the answer is not ‘HR should not have shared the pay band with her’, it is ‘she shouldn’t have been mad at you when you had no control over what raise she received’.

        2. Kimberly*

          Your view is exactly what employers want you to think. The awkwardness and such you’ve experienced is because of the inequity that exists. It isn’t about the sharing of salaries. It’s about the unfairness of the salaries.

    2. Rainy*

      I think that you are being uncharitable in characterizing your coworker’s actions as “sly”. She’s not sly, she’s underpaid, and she deserves to know that so she can either advocate for herself or leave your company. You have more experience, but in a few years, she’ll have the same amount of experience and it’s useful for her to know what she should be anticipating as far as compensation when she gets more experience.

      1. Jen*

        It would be useful for her to know if we had the same title. She’s paid what I was paid in the position she’s in. That’s not what she asked me, or HR.

        1. Lester*

          It actually is useful for her to know the salary range of the position that would be the next step us for her.
          You said that she was feigning interest in moving up which is why HR gave her the information, but she probably does have some interest in eventually moving up and knowing the salary range of that position can help her make plans for either staying long term or moving on. There is nothing wrong with her knowing the salary range.

      2. anonymous73*

        I don’t agree with Jen’s opinion about sharing salaries, but her co-worker went to HR under false pretenses to gather info about Jen, so what would you call her? Ambitious? Yes asking about salary bands isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but if the reason behind asking is so you can figure out how much your co-worker makes – that does a different job than you – then yes that is sly.

        1. Ash*

          How does Jen know this coworker went under false pretenses? Why is it not possible that this coworker actually was interested in Jen’s position, maybe even because of the salary? Most people work to make money. Also I have a suspicion this is a sockpuppet comment.

    3. A Feast of Fools*

      What? No! Even if you’re still working at the same place, share your salary!

      One of my co-workers got promoted to my level. I asked her how big her pay bump was. It was miniscule. I told her how much I was making ($15K more than her) and supported her in asking for a market adjustment raise. She ended up getting $4K more than me, but she’s been with the company 5 years and had recently gotten a highly-valued industry license. I was thrilled that she was being paid what she’s worth.

    4. Pennilyn Lot*

      I get that you had an annoying coworker but being sharing salaries is an issue of equality at the end of the day. To not support it in a broad sense because of your specific bad experience isn’t especially conducive to getting to the point where we’re all sharing salaries.

    5. Sleet Feet*

      I completely agree with you.

      Every place I have ever worked and shared my salary it has gone poorly. Every. Single. Time.

      I don’t share my salary anymore unless I have good rapport with the person and/or I’ve left the company (even then it depends on if I trust them not to tell my old manager they got the info from me. I still need a reference after all).

      It’s a huge risk. Alison I’m not sure what experience you have with this amongst peers and not direct reports but your warning paragraph of “For the sake of thoroughness, I will note that sometimes people have bad reactions to this sort of news that aren’t constructive — like resenting the higher-paid colleague rather than blaming the company. That could happen! It still wouldn’t mean you’d made the wrong choice in sharing the info with them.” Is overwhelmingly the experience I have both seen and experienced.

      Everytime I shared the other person failed to secure a raise, got very resentful and vindictive towards me (in part encouraged by management), stopped doing their fair share of the work or assisting me at all (why should I since you get paid so much more???), until one of us left. Oh and management dinged me on my performance review with a vague “needs to handle confidential information with discretion*”

      *Yes I know it’s illegal, but have you read your employee handbook? There is probably a line in there someone about salary being confidential. If companies are that balantently getting away with breaking the FLSA good luck nailing them down for a vague “lacks discretion” punishment.

      Yes sharing your salary is noble I. Theory, but in practice it can backfire hard and accomplish nothing. This is very much a know your office and coworkers kind of situation.

      1. RitaRelates*

        Yeah I think employers should not be able to dictate whether employees share salaries or not (which they are legally not able to but do anyway) but I think it comes down to the employee’s choice whether to share or not. If an employee is comfortable sharing then that’s great, if another is not, then I would respect their choice and not badger them about it or think less of them.

      2. Liz*

        This is so foreign to me. I work for the government so my salary (along with all my coworkers’ salaries) is just a click away. There are certainly drawbacks, and I would prefer that some extended family members not know how much I make, but you can’t beat the transparency when it comes to negotiating raises or figuring out what’s “fair” for a position. It’s also handy for figuring out how much I could make if I moved to a job at another agency, since they don’t always post pay ranges in the ads.

    6. Census89*

      Would you agree that sharing salaries is bad even if it makes POC employees realize that their white coworkers are making more than they are? I think your perspective really shows your privilege – if you’ve never had to worry about this, why do you think that is?

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yes, this and a thousand other reasons are why companies want people to have Jen’s attitude about sharing salary information. They literally want to pit workers against each other, so they will never band together and fight back about unfairness in the workplace.

        This is why we need unions, and also why I am not eating cereal or cookies right now.

        1. Anon anon this time*

          The fact that salaries are public for my job (since we’re public employees) is what made it clear to me and other women in our department that we were underpaid compared to our male counterparts. And when banding together to demand better didn’t work, banding together to sue did.

          PS: I’m assuming the cereal and cookies thing is a reference to the Kellogg’s strike. From what I’ve read, the workers don’t want the products boycotted; they want demand to stay the same to put some pressure on the company.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Right now all pressure to keep producing s doing is making Kellogg’s very public and active about advertising for scabs. I think I’ll take the chance that seeing their business dropping will make them realise people are paying attention and care who produces their food.

      2. Beth*


        As well as all the other reasons that secrecy about salary information only helps those already in positions of power and privilege. Maintaining the taboo is a form of internalized oppression (rather too much like the persistent pressure to silence victims of domestic and sexual violence).

    7. CM*

      Jen makes an important point here. While it’s definitely good for others to share your salary, your current coworkers won’t necessarily have an appropriate reaction to that and may resent and blame you instead of the company. Before disclosing information like that, you need to assess the impact it will have on you and decide whether you’re willing to be altruistic — which is not always the right move in a difficult work environment. Sharing info when you leave is a lot less risky.

  10. Bee Eye Ill*

    I once worked at this truly awful toxic place where during a staff meeting one of the company owners chastised people for discussing pay and actually shouted, “Anyone caught discussing salaries will be fired!”

    Needless to say, they had quite a high turnover and still do. It’s sad.

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        They would also hire people THEN make them sign a non-compete agreement and withhold their paycheck until they did. Pretty sure that’s illegal, too. I only stayed a little over a year. Total crap-show.

    1. Don*

      Let’s make this explicit: this is almost always illegal in the United States. That’s not to say that a company trying to enforce that wouldn’t also be willing to duplicitously retaliate and claim other reasons, but on its face you cannot bar people from discussing salary. There’s all sorts of on-the-job using-company-resources sorts of limits you can do but if folks want to chat compensation at happy hour off-site they’re protected in doing so.

    2. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

      There’s a line like that in our employee handbook. And yes, HR has been informed about the legal problems with it. We’ll see if it changes.

    3. Cheshire Cat*

      At a previous job, we used to get a letter at bonus time reminding us not to talk about whether we got a bonus, or how much it was. Then one year the Big Boss got up at a staff meeting and threatened to fire anyone who discussed bonuses. That was pretty shocking, he wasn’t the sort to make threats.

      I stumbled on AAM soon after and found out that was illegal.

      The following year, my manager told me about that year’s bonus and reminded me about the company policy. And I responded that I’m not comfortable discussing bonuses anyway, but the company policy is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. Manager tried to argue that since our company headquarters were in another state, different laws applied (I responded that it’s a federal law & applies to the whole country) and later tried to tell me that the law “hadn’t passed” (um, yes it did, before either of us were born.)

      And the year after that, there was no “confidentiality required” letter.

      My job duties started changing after that—I started losing my favorite tasks and started to feel less valued—and I wondered if it was subtle retaliation. I still wonder sometimes. But I’ve since moved on to a better employer that doesn’t threaten us for exercising our rights.

  11. Sparkles McFadden*

    You did the right thing, LW. I was fortunate in that, for half of my career, I was in a union that put out a yearly report on salary ranges by department. That report helped me negotiate compensation at review time and also when I changed jobs within the company (which was often the only way to negotiate a decent pay increase).

    Even with that report, one manager would openly lie and say “Those numbers are all made up” and “I don’t even know what anyone makes because I don’t decide on anyone’s salary. My boss does that and never tells me who makes what.” Somehow, that manager didn’t expect me to approach her manager about my compensation. That was interesting right out of the gate when my grandboss said “She said I decide what everyone makes? How good that I know that now.” That resulted in Grandboss reviewing the department salaries and adjusting some of us accordingly.

  12. The New Normal*

    Sharing of salaries is SO beneficial!!

    At a previous job, I took a new position in a different department. My job duties changed and I was moved up into a higher pay grade… but I went from full time to 32 hours. Our HR wanted to reduce my old salary to 32 hours instead of putting me in the higher grade and then reducing. It was 2 weeks of arguing back and forth before I went to our union rep and let her know the situation. I had my correct salary by the end of the day, and it triggered the union to request an audit of the salaries of all secretaries. The widespread inaccuracy that was discovered made state and regional news. We were all brought up to the level we were supposed to be at and new ranges were created.

    Talking about salaries is how we discover discrimination and bust glass ceilings. It’s so important!

    1. Gan Ainm*

      Wow they really misunderstood how math works… (conveniently to their own advantage) Good for you for speaking up!

  13. Naomi*

    OP, you seem to be worried that you hurt this person because he was distressed to learn the news, or that he’ll now be discontented with his job. The thing is… you didn’t hurt him, because you’re not the one underpaying him. You gave him valuable information about how much his job is worth, which he can use as he sees fit. And if that means he’s discontented, or feels the company isn’t treating him well… maybe that feeling is warranted, and he now knows enough to do something about it, whether that’s pushing for a raise or looking elsewhere.

    You weren’t happy with the job even at the higher salary. If your friend has the stress and overwork of this job either way, which is worse: to carry on being underpaid and not even realize it, or to know he’s underpaid and have the perspective to decide if his current salary is worth the stress?

  14. Goldenrod*

    Yeah! Agreed! You shouldn’t feel bad, you did the right thing. It sounds like your company is trying to take advantage of the new guy. Even if you had more experience, the gap in salary shouldn’t be THAT much. I hope he uses this info to negotiate a raise.

  15. Rayray*

    I’m pretty sure it is a federally protected right to discuss your salary. You should discuss it if you want to.

    My company makes it a little obvious where people are at on the pay scale by adding a 1,2,3 etc after your title. I still think though it is worth talking about though just to know exactly where you’re at and to have leverage in asking for raises:

    1. Kiko*

      It is federally protected. Too many people don’t realize this!

      I wish I had spoken up at my previous workplace, where my boss made several egregious attempts to shame people into never talking about salaries. She would say things like “If you talk about salaries, you’ll eventually hurt the business and could put us jeopardy” and “talking about salaries doesn’t benefit anyone, don’t engage in conversations if colleagues try to engage”.

      It still makes my blood boil thinking about it today.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        I had a manager outright tell me it was illegal to share salary information! My eyes got as big as saucers and I nodded quietly, quickly found a new job with a 30% pay hike, and told my coworkers what I made on my last day. I don’t know if she was knowingly lying or genuinely mistaken and I’m not sure which would be worse.

  16. Green Goose*

    You did the right thing OP! I agree with Alison and others that people may feel upset to learn of the discrepancy but it’s still better to have all the information. I remember when I learned about nonprofit 990 forms where they have to publish salaries of the top people and I found out my boss was making almost $150k and was not budging about my request for a $2k salary increase, and I think my salary was around $65k at the time. If I hadn’t have seen the 990 I would have assumed that her salary was only $20-$30k more than mine since it was always such a battle to get raises.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      I did the financial reports for my (non-profit) group. The managing director made $250K and paid a search firm $30K to find one of my co-workers (instead of letting the internal recruiters handle it). He paid a consultant $25K to put together an internal process manual that one of my co-workers had to completely re-write.

      When I was going to leave my job – which paid $50K – for one that paid $75K, he offered me only $53K to stay.

      He paid my replacement (a man, btw) $67K. And my replacement didn’t accomplish anything in the two years he was there. (The job was to license global organizations to sell my company’s product and my replacement did not add one vendor to the list in two years.)

    2. JustaTech*

      When I worked for Big State U my lab discovered one day that we could see everyone in the entire university’s salary (state employees). We were generally shocked at how much our grand-boss made and how very little our boss and post-doc made (the post-doc was making less than me, the most junior person in the lab).

      This didn’t help anything with our salaries, between the recession and the salary bands and the person who could have gotten us merit raises not wanting to do the paperwork, but at least we knew where we stood.

  17. justabot*

    I did this once when leaving a job and a friendly acquaintance/coworker of mine was offered the position. To be completely honest, I didn’t really know my salary was a big secret. It was an hourly rate and a standard position (meaning the same exact position existed at the same company in many locations) and I thought that was just the standard rate for this job. When the coworker was considering applying for the position – a new role for her, she asked me what the pay was and I didn’t hesitate to tell her. Well my old GM called me the next week SCREAMING at me, saying I should have never told anyone, that it was bad professional practice, that she had fought for me to get me the absolute maximum salary she could offer, that she would never be able to get that for this person taking my role, and now I had caused discontent and an issue before the person had even started. She was furious with me and it ruined our relationship. And right or wrong, it stung, and I’ve never discussed salary with anyone again.

    1. Kiko*

      Out of curiosity, how did the GM find out? Did your friend say in negotiations “justabot got $30/hour for this position, so I would like the same” or did the GM figure it out because they were about to underpay your friend, when they asked for something in your salary band?

      1. Sleet Feet*

        I’m guessing the person said – well so and so made $30 so you can pay me $30. That’s been my experience when these discussions go down the latrine.

      2. justabot*

        The coworker taking my position did reference what I was making. Oops. In retrospect, I probably would have given a range and leave it to her discretion to use it as negotiating power, but not flat out state that I had shared the salary for the position. It did not even cross my mind at the time, because I really did think that was a standard pay for the position and that I was giving away some big secret. It had never crossed my mind that they would have offered her less than that. It definitely caused issues. It was the second time my salary at that place had caused an issue. (The first time I hadn’t told anyone, but another employee had looked it up and apparently when she found out what I was starting at and that it was more than her, she promptly quit the next week. I didn’t learn this until later.) So it was true, I was earning more than anyone else there, because my GM had believed in me and apparently felt I was worth it, but she clearly expected me to keep that to myself.

        1. Nonprofiteer*

          As a manager I can sympathize with advocating for higher comp for a stellar employee and kinda hoping it won’t be a big thing with their peers. But fair is not the same as equal, and a good manager can confidently explain why person A earned more than person B is being offered – and ideally how to get there.

    2. Observer*

      And right or wrong, it stung, and I’ve never discussed salary with anyone again.

      Why? Your old manager was a jerk, and flat out wrong. You never had a good relationship, even though you think so. If you REALLY had a “good” relationship, your boss would not SCREAMED at you for doing a perfectly normal thing. Nor would she have lied to you. And she WAS lying – there absolutely NOTHING wrong with sharing your salary information.

      All you are doing by refusing to share salary information is to continue to enable people like that to continue to underpay people.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Perhaps that GM won’t give them a reference after that happened? That would suck, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

        It’s basically a way for crap employers to control the market and keep wages low.

      2. Tuesday*

        I definitely understand why. I agree that the boss behaved horribly, but I also totally sympathize with the desire to play it safe after such an awful experience.

    3. hbc*

      Terrible manager. Rather than freaking out: “That’s actually the very top of our pay range which needs special approval. With your X years of experience, your starting point is obviously lower, but it will be revisited biannually, and the majority of people who aren’t already maxed out get a bump at least once a year.”

      If you can’t make a reasonable case for your payment practices, then you shouldn’t have them. Will you sometimes lose candidates who don’t understand that nuance? Of course, but I’d rather lose people who don’t understand that up front than rely on their ignorance to hook them.

      1. Tuesday*

        Thanks for your comment. I was wondering how a normal, less-prone-to-freaking-out manager would have handled this, and your script makes sense.

      2. Gan Ainm*

        This right here. Perfectly said.

        My boss recently complained to me because one of my employees shared his salary with another employee, saying it caused a lot of issues and she thinks it is “incredibly unprofessional”. I just kind of shrugged, I completely disagree and think that if you can’t justify and explain pay you’re doing something wrong, but she has a lot of old-fashioned ideas so I’m not going to win this battle.

      3. justabot*

        Thank you – that would have been a much better response on her part! My mistake was sharing the salary as if it was a given. I really thought that’s what the “position” paid and didn’t realize I was earning well over that.

    4. Lab Boss*

      Alison has expressed here, more than once, that it’s definitely OK to give better performers better compensation or benefits (as long as it’s truly based on performance rather than protected classes). As a manager it’s a great feeling to go to bat for a great employee and get to tell them you got them something good. It sounds like your ex-manager either a) couldn’t win another battle with upper management over salary to get your successor paid properly and took out her frustration on you, or b) couldn’t handle the tough conversation with your successor about “this is why we paid justabot at that level, and here’s where you’re coming up short of that level” and took out her frustration on you.

      Either way her behavior was absurd, and she’s either woefully uninformed about what constitutes “bad professional practice” or she dishonestly defined it as “making me do parts of management I don’t like.” Your instinct to avoid that is 100% understandable but hopefully you reach a point where it’s worth risking it to keep salary information available.

  18. Lacey*

    When I left a recent job I had a coworker ask if I’d be willing to share what I’d been getting paid. It doesn’t sound like the gap was as wide as it is here, but it wasn’t insignificant. She was able to use that information to get a significant raise, even though she’d previously been told they weren’t able to give any raises!

  19. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    As George Bernard Shaw once said: The only secrets are the secrets that keep themselves.

    And as stated secrecy helps employers to the detriment of employees.

    That was a reaction you never expected and it was a big one and its instinctual to want to avoid that ever again but its a major blessing in disguise.
    You did the right thing and should do it again. And next time should not elicit such an emotional response, that was atypical.

  20. Lexi Lynn*

    And if a company claims to be transparent because they share salary bands, get details. I worked for a company where the range for individual contributor with manager title was something like $40k-$150k, senior manager was $45k-$160k and so on. Pretty useless.

    1. Peppercat53*

      Yes in my role with my former company our salary range was 43k to 87k. Not quite as bad as what you were seeing but still not great.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I worked at a university for a time and they posted salary bands. However, when negotiating my salary I brought that up because their offer to me was just under the lowest entry point of the band (and I was bringing 15 years experience from private sector, so asked for middle of the band) they tried to downplay the bands they post as not being accurate!
      So lame!

      1. Lab Boss*

        My company is just stumbling through implementing bands and is already prepping us for that kind of shenanigans- they’ve stopped just barely short of saying “well they’re more like GUIDELINES than actual rules.”

  21. Cranky lady*

    I realized the importance of salary sharing when I was told that I wouldn’t be considered for an internal position but that I wouldn’t want it anyway since it made less that my current salary. I later learned that wasn’t true and the gentleman previously in the position was making significantly more than I did with less experience and education. Some employers don’t want salaries shared because it would require them to be honest.

    1. Sleet Feet*

      Just an FYI for future internal roles, I’ve had good luck emailing HR the job ad and asking what the pay band is.
      I’ve definitely not applied to jobs that were less and was surprised by how well a more Jr sounding role paid.

  22. spek*

    It always amuses me that some companies will demand to know what you got paid at your last job (even requiring it on the application), but consider it taboo for you to discuss pay with your colleagues. If I know my current company’s policy is not to reveal salary information, I will put down whatever number suits me. Not exactly ethical, but in the industry I work for, “Corporate” and “Ethics” are two works that don’t go together.

      1. But what next?*

        Oh whoah, I had no idea. I was unable to move forward with an otherwise good interview opportunity for my current job without stating my current wage, and not wanting to be caught in a worse situation by lying, I was honest… and while I do like my job, I worry I am one of the lesser paid on my team because of that (and with some of the most years of experience). Great job Colorado for banning that!

        1. Gumby*

          21 different states have banned requiring salary histories though some are more limited in scope than others. Check it out – your state may be one of them!

          Colorado, in addition, has a newer pay transparency law that requires job postings to include certain information about salary, bonuses, etc.

        2. Lexi Lynn*

          Unfortunately some ads are now saying “Colorado people will not be considered” because letting people make fair decisions upsets them so much.

  23. Peppercat53*

    Yes keep talking about salaries! With my former company we had a contractor get hired on permanently- she had been a contractor for 6 months and this was her first real job (outside college jobs- like working in the college library). She let slip how much she was making and it was about 5k more than me (with 5 years experience in my job with the company and multiple certifications she didn’t have). Multiple other coworkers had been there longer than me and were making less than her as well. This led to us banding together and going to HR to complain. In those meetings with HR I literally had them tell me that merit increases would close the gap between the new girl and myself. Our merit increases were based on base pay (hers was already higher than mine). I explained that math says that won’t happen and at best she would always be 5k more than me as we moved up together. HR then basically blacklisted me for pointing out the flaw in their logic. Eventually they concluded their “investigation” into pay for people at our job description/duties across the company and found we were being under-paid (shocker as they hired me at the bottom of the pay band). We were given one time increases which we were made to sign a paper saying we wouldn’t discuss salaries again in order to get our increase (yes, nice and illegal). I left about 3 years later. It was a very toxic workplace with other things going on like favoritism and promoting people who neglected their assigned job duties to work on other things that would make them look good to leadership.

    1. Observer*

      We were given one time increases which we were made to sign a paper saying we wouldn’t discuss salaries again in order to get our increase (yes, nice and illegal).

      I’d love to see them try to enforce that and get hauled into court. Because if they actually went into court and said under oath that they prohibited you from talking about salary they would be in a world of hurt.

      1. Peppercat53*

        Yeah at the time I liked my job and wanted to stay. The position still offered more pay and benefits than smaller companies in my industry could and I was still pretty new to the corporate world. Otherwise, had I been ready to blow things up I would have gotten a lawyer and challenged it.

  24. Observer*

    OP, please realize that your aim in life should not be to “never upset anyone” and certainly not “never make anyone discontented with their job.” Of course, you should not be specifically trying to upset people. But if you have to choose to upset someone or to withhold useful information that is likely to help this person in their decision making, ALWAYS prioritize giving that person the information they need! The harm of withholding the information is FAR, FAR greater than upsetting them.

  25. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    That’s interesting. My father told me early in my career that you should *never* discuss salary. He’s now 90 so this advice is dated.

    I did once share someone else’s raise with her peer and she was upset. So I felt bad. That was in my very first job and I didn’t know better.

    A couple of jobs later, someone shared how she got a surprise raise. There was a very brief awkward moment at the table as she was related to the owners and surprise raises were very much not a thing for non-family employees. A different family member once let her salary slip out. It was more than mine by far. We resented their family link, AND the company not being fair. I left for greener pastures.

    Now I’m in a union and everyone knows everyone’s salary – it’s published annually! – and it’s kinda nice to not have to worry about inequities or secrets about it.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think the sort of earlier gaffes are actually good things–the more people know, the better. Knowing that someone got a good raise might tell people what they need to do to earn such a bump themselves.

      It’s harder when the social aspect enters.

  26. PandaM*

    When I was relatively early in my career, a new hire asked me about a detail in her offer letter. I glanced at her salary and was shocked to see she was being paid $30K more than me for the same job. I had never felt so outraged and unvalued in my life and, as the highest performer in the department, ultimately advocated for and received an appropriate raise as a result. OP definitely did the right thing here and may have changed the life of their colleague, just as mine did. I would have left if they hadn’t compensated me fairly. Either way I would have come out ahead.

      1. PandaM*

        Yes! Nuts, right? $40K vs $70K. I had been promoted from within, which is how a lot of us seem to end up in that situation. They were like that with everyone, not just me. Super high cost of living area too.

        1. Sleet Feet*

          Ugh the old. “We only provide so much of a raise at one time. That’s only fair after all.”

          Yeah it’s a completely logical way for your top performers to leave the company.

  27. Albow*

    About 10 years ago, I was pretty inexperienced and got a job with what I thought was okayish pay for the first time (actually, it was the legal minimum for the administration award) and a year in, I took on the payroll for the company and discovered that all my colleagues were being paid waaay more than me – roughly 1.5 – 2.5 times as much, because we didn’t talk about pay. As the new payroll clerk, I had to read the award in detail and eventually managed to negotiate a raise to a few cents an hour above the legal minimum for someone who does payroll.

    I never got parity with my colleagues and it was entirely because we didn’t talk about money. Talk about pay.

    1. Sleet Feet*

      I’ll be honest. Since you could literally see everyone’s pay, but still couldn’t get a fair raise, I’m not sure why you think other people having the same info as you would make them more successful at getting a raise?

      I can guarantee you that management would have scapegoated anyone who shared their higher salary and given out the same paltry raise, or none, that you got. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly.

  28. Kristi*

    I’m puzzled by the question, tbh. “even if he does manage to use the information I gave him to get a (much-needed) bump in pay he’ll still be stuck with all the additional drama and responsibility of this position”.

    First – the drama and responsibility haven’t changed, he’d be stuck with them anyway, and second, I don’t see any way in which putting him in a better negotiating position and potentially increasing his salary makes his life worse. I mean – is there anyone out there reading this and saying “I don’t want to be in a better negotiating position, the realization that there’s more money on the table m ight be too upsetting?”

    1. JB*

      Some people are really raised to always see it as a bad thing if something they say or do causes distress to another person. I think that’s part of the issue LW is having here; he got upset, so they think this conversation was bad and that they did a bad thing.

  29. HS Teacher*

    I had an assistant once tell me she made $5,000 more per year than I did. While she was valuable to the organization, she did not have my experience or education. When I confronted my boss about it, he was livid with her but couldn’t do anything except give me a raise. His reasoning for paying her more was that she was a single mother with two kids, and I live on my own and “don’t need that much.”

    BTW, I was supporting my aging parents, but he either didn’t know that or didn’t care. Can we just pay people based on experience and education instead of on some BS like number of children? Don’t punish me for not procreating.

    1. Kiko*

      Well, your boss is a total jerk. But I would say that, generally, it’s not great to throw someone under the bus for being transparent and upfront with you. The assistant did you a huge favor and you potentially burned a bridge for her.

      1. Pterodactylate*

        I mean, throwing under the bus is a bit of an overstatement. It’s legal to discuss salaries, HS Teacher brought up the information to the person with the power to decide salaries, and the boss responded inappropriately.

        1. Gan Ainm*

          Yes the boss responded inappropriately and that’s always a risk, which is why you don’t say how you came across the information. If the people who are kind enough to share their salary info suffer consequences because of it they’re going to sensibly hesitate to do so in the future which will negatively impact everyone.

          1. Kiko*

            Yup. I’m all for sharing salaries, but I always assume the person who was so kind to share their pay expects me not to openly share it with their boss. Especially if they’re dependent on this boss for future references.

            While it’s absolutely legal to discuss wages, I know people who have been burned by colleagues so blind with rage over pay inequities that they totally dismiss the people who passed on the info.

        1. Kiko*

          My apologies. This sentence threw me off: “When I confronted my boss about it, he was livid with her but couldn’t do anything except give me a raise. ”

          When someone in leadership is livid with a member of their staff, I assume that their relationship is taking a turn for the worse. If the assistant received no grief for sharing this info, fantastic! But I’ve seen the opposite happen quite a bit.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I wouldn’t define “You are paying my assistant more than me, you know it, and you are using inappropriate criteria for deciding pay” to be throwing the assistant under the bus at all. None of this is the assistant’s fault, and if the boss tries to make it out to be so, *he’s* at fault, not HS Teacher.

      3. Observer*

        HS Teacher didn’t “throw her under the bus.” Pointing out that you are getting paid less than someone else where it doesn’t make sense is not “throwing someone under the bus.”

        It’s a shame that it could have hurt the Admin, but I have to say that odds are that this was not going to be a very sturdy bridge. (Like if he found out that she was looking for another job, he’d probably be livid, give her a bad reference and possibly push her out.)

      4. JB*

        Genuinely curious, how would you address it in a case like this without bringing up the assistant’s name/explaining that she told you? I think just saying ‘I know Daisy is making X’ and refusing to say how would make it sound like you snuck around to get the information.

        1. irene adler*

          Yeah that’s dicey. Maybe “It has recently come to my attention that Daisy is earning $x annual salary whereas I earn $x-5 less in annual salary. ”

          Then when the boss asks “How did you find this out?”, one can demur with ” I’d rather not say how I came upon this information.”

  30. sam_i_am*

    I feel like people here might know: is discussing salary still legally protected for supervisors? I’m pretty sure it’s in the same legislation that protects union organizing, which doesn’t cover supervisors, but I haven’t really been able to find any info aside from the law itself (and I don’t trust myself to understand laws!)

    1. Need More Sunshine*

      Federally, it’s not legally protected for supervisory employees, so your company could ban managers from talking about how much they make, but not non-supervisory employees. Same as the right to unionize, this is covered under the NLRA and applies to employers of all sizes with some exceptions on business type (like government, religious schools, agricultural employers, and some others).

      State laws may vary, though, and typically employers have to comply with the stricter law.

      1. Elizabeth (they/them)*

        The criteria for who is a supervisor, IIRC, involves duties like hiring/firing, determining wages etc., so even if you have the title you may be protected under the act if you’re not making those key personnel decisions. Definitely check out the NLRA because those details matter! My dad once successfully fought for having everyone in his role included in the union bargaining unit because upper management explicitly vetoed a hiring recommendation he made, which showed that his role did not ultimately decide hires.

  31. TootsNYC*

    People so often confuse social etiquette and business etiquette.

    Inside your social circles, with family and friends, it’s not cool to make “how much money I make” a frequent topic of conversation. Money isn’t supposed to be the point of those interactions; we’re supposed to value one another beyond that.
    It doesn’t mean you can’t ever talk about it, but it shouldn’t be a focus.

    In business, there is no such compunction.

    1. Julia*

      I wish this were the case, but the reality is that we have an American workplace etiquette norm that we don’t discuss salary openly. Is it a good idea? No, and we should endeavor to change it. But the norm does exist. Pretending it doesn’t exist can be counterproductive, like telling men “just feel free to wear dresses!” without considering the years of social conditioning that contribute to the enforcement of masculine behavioral norms. If we want to change norms we have to acknowledge they exist.

  32. The OTHER other*

    I confess I am distracted from the whole “is it OK to share salary info” question because of the OP had to take on the additional work of an entire TEAM a on top of their already considerable workload. How is it that employers think this is normal? And that perhaps doing the work of 4, 5, 6 or even more people might merit say a 5-10% increase? It’s gross, and sadly seems like it’s not that uncommon.

    I took on 1/2 of a departed colleague’s work while we got a replacement and I was at the end of my rope after a couple weeks, things were reorganized to be more spread out but that was bad enough.

  33. Ann Perkins*

    OP, you did a good thing! I was in your friend’s shoes recently and was so happy that the previous salary history was shared with me. It allowed me to feel more bold in negotiating a raise and then also zero guilt when I ended up taking an even better job and leaving for a company that pays better.

  34. no.*

    Yeah, I don’t share my salary with people who have less formal education than me for that reason. While I don’t believe that a college degree magically makes someone more qualified or more deserving of more money than a high school diploma, I realize management and HR personnel have been trained to think otherwise and I think it’s cruel to encourage someone with limited options to expect more. Since they are often paid minimum wage, though, I do generally tell them the range they should be in, given their experience and what I know their knowledge and work ethic to be.

    I also just wanted to throw it out there. I have been in a position where I was paid minimum wage but was otherwise enjoying my work and having fun with my coworkers. When an older coworker told me what he was making, even as I understood that it wasn’t his fault, that $2/hr wasn’t a big deal in the bigger scheme of things, that he was still (like I was) struggling to pay rent, I found myself beginning to feel resentful whenever he came to me (as he’d always done) for computer support, culminating with a sudden conviction that $2/hr would’ve amounted to *something* after a few months. Thankfully, I did secure another job a few weeks later before I could snap at him and ruin the relationship.

    I shared my personal experience because I think it’s important to understand that solidarity and clear thinking can go out the window when your basic needs aren’t met (and management makes it clear you’re disposable because your role is of the “unskilled” variety). And while I have nothing against advocating for pay transparency, I think it’s more crucial that all the minimum-wage workers can feel like they have any room for negotiation at all. Otherwise, the fight will never be fair for them, and pay transparency will only result in more resentment than pay equality.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      There’s nothing in the least bit cruel about sharing information with people who may not be qualified to get the same raise as you. If anything it’s more valuable. Assume I was a financial analyst making $50K a year. If my peer with a CPA is making more than me it is valuable for me to know just how much more. Then I can decide if it’s worth my time to also become a CPA.

      As for your other scenario – even if you are the more valuable employee making less than your aging coworker your anger is still directed at the wrong person. “James can’t do his job without me but he makes more than me” is not a reason to be mad at James. It’s a reason to be mad at the company paying you minimum wage.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      Another $2/hour comes to over $4K/year. That would make a difference for someone making minimum wage. Looking back, I wish I had known more & advocated for myself more when I had those kinds of low-wage jobs. (I was often given additional duties & could have made the argument.)

    3. Lab Boss*

      Everything you say makes sense, but I still think your conclusion is off the mark. Some people will react emotionally in the moment or get frustrated that they don’t have as much upward mobility as they hoped, but that information still gives them a chance to make deliberate choices.

      Is it kinder for the company to keep people with less education in the dark about pay disparity, so they don’t feel bad? I say no- they’re saving the employee a big of frustration, but they’re also ensuring those employees keep working for low wages instead of seeking more education and commanding higher wages.

      Is it kinder for minimum-wage workers to “feel” like they have some room for negotiation, or for them to understand just what room they do and don’t have? It seems like you’re starting from the premise that wages are absolute truths, and knowing you’re underpaid is just useless pain- but companies CAN give minimum wage workers upward paths, and CAN make their pay structures clear so employees can make informed choices. Employees can push back, rather than simply living with the bitter knowledge that they’re getting screwed.

  35. Omnivalent*

    “Is salary simply too taboo to discuss in polite company?”

    No, that’s sex. Salary is absolutely appropriate to discuss in polite company.

  36. Ozzie*

    Talking about pay was how I learned that people with my same title but less experience were making more money than I was – and how I got my pay brought in line with theirs.

    Always talk about pay – don’t let your company pay you as little as they possibly can. Make them pay you what your time and knowledge and skills are worth.

  37. AntsOnMyTable*

    The pandemic has resulted in a lot of nurses leaving bedside totally or wanting to go into traveling to make $$$. My job just did a market adjustment a little while ago but now also just did a change in how they decide pay (it is no longer just focused on experience only – I amazingly got a 20% raise because involved in different things). On two different units the supervisors said “don’t share your wage with each other” and I piped up “but legally you can!” I understand there is a lot of things going into it now and thus there will be huge variables but, honestly, whoever makes the decision should be capable of explaining *why* people are getting what they get.

  38. Elenna*

    Think of it this way – you didn’t hurt your friend, the company was already hurting him by underpaying (and overworking) him. Previously, he was being hurt (by the company) but he didn’t know it. Now you’ve told him that they’re hurting him.

    And it’s not a surprise he was upset, it sucks to be told that you’re being screwed over by the company you trusted. But it’s better to be screwed over and aware of it, rather than screwed over and unaware of it. This way, he can decide whether or not he wants to do something, rather than being forced into not doing anything by lack of knowledge.

  39. DEJ*

    When I got laid off from an industry that is seen as super cool to work in but is really overworked and underpaid, people asked regularly if I would come back at some point and I told them that they could hire someone to do the job for 20% less than I was making. And sure enough, when the position came back that’s about what it was posted at. A ton of mid-career people got laid off from this industry and just about every position that has come back is now at entry level pay for the same work.

    Ultimately OP, your company is saying ‘this work is worth X to us now.’ Given that you said your company has had layoffs it doesn’t surprise me that they’re trying to save money where they can. It’s understandably demoralizing to your former colleague but as Allison likes to say, it’s up to him whether he wants to keep the job in those conditions.

  40. Lab Boss*

    I understand the instinct to feel guilty or awkward about having something a friend does not, even when it’s 100% not your fault. Consider a situation where a friend is dealing with chronic medical issues and you are healthy, or you/your partner getting pregnant just when a friend is struggling with fertility. The disparity is in no way your fault, but it can still feel weird knowing your friend would love to have what you have.

    Here’s the difference: in those examples, nobody is to blame. Some combination of factors beyond anyone’s personal control is at work, and you’re study feeling awkward about the nebulous universe treating you better than your friend in a way that can’t be fixed. In this letter, *it is someone’s fault.* The company is making a decision to not pay your friend what it paid you, it’s not some blameless fault in his stars. If it feels bad to know he got the short end of the stick, you know who to feel bad at, and he knows what his options are to address the problem.

  41. Fabulous*

    I once worked as an assistant to a financial advisor.

    Just after I had gotten denied a lowly $2k raise to bring me to the minimum market rate for my position, I was tasked with processing some benefits paperwork for our entire 4-person team which detailed everyone’s salary.

    My counterpart, who had just been hired, was getting paid nearly $10k more than I was at nearly 2 years tenure. Presumably because he was a dude, and while he did have *some* prior experience in the field, he wasn’t licensed like I had been the year before. I didn’t stay long after that discovery.

    I reeeeeaaaaally wish every company had more transparency (and equality) in their pay practices. Ugh.

  42. LisaNeedsBraces*

    Please don’t mistake something you say upsetting someone with the conclusion that you shouldn’t have said it. There are many pieces of information we can receive, from “there’s a stain on the seat of your pants” to “you should check out that mole”, that are upsetting but necessary to hear. “You’re being underpaid” is certainly one of those. You didn’t cause him to be upset, the job did. And while he may start to dislike his job, disliking something that is treating him unfairly makes sense. He now has the information he needs to speak out for a better wage, or look somewhere else. And that’s the reason everyone should be open about their pay within a company: not to make everyone happy in the moment, but to empower everyone to seek out better opportunities.

  43. BornConfuzed*

    I found out at my last job that a new hire, a man with less experience than I had hired to do the same job I was doing, was making almost $15k more than I was. I used that information to leverage a big raise (although not a raise to what he was making). I left before I could find out if my boss’s promise to get me, at least, to parity was something he would be able to manage within the bureaucracy of the job. I am still pissed off at the company and grateful to that coworker for telling me what he made. I hope the OP looks at all these comments and feels good for helping tip the scales towards the worker, for once.

  44. PT*

    There is a difference between the two separate issues OP is asking about:

    1. Did I make a moral/ethical/legal mistake in sharing my pay with my coworker? No you did not. Morally, ethically, and legally, you’re in the clear.

    2. Will there be social or political blowback or other workplace consequences or career harm that will cause me to regret having done so? That’s absolutely and entirely possible.

    1. I don't play games*

      This is a really excellent point, and I don’t think the answer here entirely addresses the second question.

  45. Yep*

    Nope, not a mistake, thanks for sharing! I received an increase a few jobs ago because one of my coworkers shared her salary with me. My title was different but I was doing the same job (and a bit more) but was 10k under her salary. I had a WTF moment and brought it up to my supervisor and my salary was adjusted. It was an incredibly uncomfortable subject for me to bring up, but it had to be done. The supervisor did ask where I heard it from and seemed annoyed that the employee shared the info, but this was deep in the “you don’t share salary info” days. Now I push for salary transparency.

  46. Susan Ivanova*

    The CEO at our rapidly expanding startup didn’t know how much the three youngest employees were making: the VP of Engineering had asked us our salary requirements, but we were all from cheaper parts of the country and this was our first or second job, so we had no idea what it should be (this was long before there was an Internet where we could check). I got a 50% raise over my Texas salary! That barely paid for an apartment in California.

    Once she found out, we all got our salaries bumped as much and often as the accountants were happy with until we caught up.

  47. Julia*

    I shared my salary with a coworker exactly once, and it was an awkward disaster because he didn’t reciprocate (in context it was clear he didn’t want to say what he made because he made so much more than me). So it made me feel inferior, insecure, and like an indiscreet blabbermouth who now was probably being judged for how little I made. What made matters worse was I knew I was a much worse employee than this guy, because of depression. He’d been brought in as my peer and then promoted above me. I’m super-diligent now that my condition is treated, but I wasn’t then. The incident really stung me and colored my view of my workplace.

    I share that story just to commiserate. We all know sharing salary is ideally a good thing to do, but it’s also an absolute damn etiquette minefield and it can be genuinely tough to know how to navigate the feelings it brings up! The more we do it, the more we normalize it and the less weird it becomes. But until the day when it’s normal, we’ll have to tolerate some weirdness.

  48. But what next?*

    While I agree that OP did the right thing by sharing their salary, I’m curious how exactly that is meant to be a tool for the low salary worker to negotiate a better one. I’ve been told it’s in poor taste to ask for a raise simply because others in the position are or were making more — that it’s about your work being better than ever before and that you deserve a raise for that. How would this person use that to negotiate a raise, beyond just making them aware of how unhappy they SHOULD be with their pay?

    1. Lab Boss*

      I think it can depend on scale. If I’m making $60K and a coworker is making $61K I can’t ask for a raise just because that’s what he makes and I want it. But if I’m making $60K and find out they were paying the last person $120K, that’s not even on the same pay scale. In that position it gives me a few pieces of leverage: First, it takes away the company’s ability to pretend $120 is simply out of the question for the role, as I know they WILL pay it. Second, once we agree that $120 is on the table, I can negotiate to find out exactly what separated my current performance and duties from my predecessor’s, and push for a plan to get to those milestones and see an appropriate salary increase.

      Of course that assumes there was an actual difference in duty and the company wants to play straight. The other thing it might tell me is “they’re underpaying me because they think they can get away with it, and are unwilling to tie my salary to any definable performance metric, and I should put on my running shoes and beat it.”

    2. Ann Perkins*

      I did this recently and though it was a bit of a minefield, knowing the previous person (of same education, age, nearly identical work experience but of course was a man and I’m a woman) made what I was going for gave me a huge boost. While I didn’t cite that I knew the previous pay per that person’s request, I referenced market pay quite a bit and how much value the role brings. I think the boss caught on at that point that I knew what the previous pay was because I got bumped to that level.

    3. Observer*

      I’ve been told it’s in poor taste to ask for a raise simply because others in the position are or were making more

      What does taste have to do with this?

      Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to look at others’ pay, but in a case like this, it’s important information because, whether the coworker actually mentions it to the boss, now he knows how much his position could be paying. He knows that when his boss says something like “This IS the salary and there is no room for negotiating.” that is not true. So either he pushes back or goes and finds another job that pays closer to what he could OP was getting.

    4. Lenora Rose*

      The big difference I think is whether they can point to performance or seniority reasons why two workers are getting different pay (but within the same band) or whether there’s a blatant discrepancy that has nothing to do with performance (a new hire paid more than someone with excellent performance reviews and multiple years of seniority). If nothing else, it can make the OP’s replacement able to ask what he needs to do to earn her salary, and if he’s not within the same band, he can push to be put in the right band.

      IOW, what Lab Boss said.

  49. Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell*

    When I accepted a job offer, they initially lowballed me by several thousand. I only found out because I asked around and was able to get in touch with a friend of a friend who worked at the company. I’m sure I was visibly unhappy with the company when she gave me the number, but if she hadn’t, I would never have been able to negotiate a higher salary, and I’m still very grateful to her for that.

  50. irene adler*

    Small company antics (< 20 people):
    We're not supposed to discuss salaries. There's not a way to compare salaries as everyone has a different job. So no "apples to apples". Okay. But we have similar titles, such as "manager" or "technician" or "CxO". So they should be on the same level-right?

    And, we're not supposed to discuss raises either. I'm told the reason for this is that not everyone gets a raise. We don't want folks to feel bad if they didn't get one. Management discretely goes around and tells folks individually what their pay raise is.
    (we don't get annual raises. So one doesn't expect to see a pay increase every year.)

    So, one day someone scanned the list of everyone's salary on the company copier. And I found that list.

    And I'm not pleased. As a manager, I am paid a whole lot less than the two other managers-both male ($60K vs $95k). I get about the same as the lead technician (female).

    NO use fightin'; management always claims there's never any money available.

    But I'm gonna post that salary list when I leave. Cuz the two managers are going to be livid to find out they are paid the exact same amount.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Ugh. In a small operation, management saying the money just isn’t there is the ultimate trump card- because short of flat-out accusing them of lying (and torpedoing the relationship), how do you argue with it? As a former victim I feel for you.

    2. CW*

      I feel for you too. I was a victim 5 years ago, when I was making $20k less than the average employee doing the same work at my former employer. And my sorry-excuse-for-a-boss told everyone that profits tripled that year. I was NOT pleased, and this is putting it lightly.

      1. irene adler*

        Thank you CW and Lab Boss. I’m going to make very sure whomever is hired to replace me is made aware of the salary I’m making (and the overall salary situation). Otherwise things will continue as they have been.

    3. Meep*

      I work for a small company (less than 10 employees). We had a “contractor” for 3 years they kept promising a job to. He was literally holding us together with shoestrings and duct tape. Well, he finally left 2.5 years after I would’ve been without a job offer for a job that paid 2.5x more than what he was being paid. (It was probably more like 4.5x more as he was a contractor so he paid his own taxes.)

      In his time, he managed to make our small company profitable for the first time in the four years we had been in operation. And not just a “little” profitable, but insanely profitable. Enough to pay him market rates and then some because this guy was an expert and a genius. You think that would have been the time to 1-800-GET-A-CLUE. Instead, our VP of Sales (who does literally nothing and is the one I mentioned below as only looking out for her own self-interests) was too busy trying to get herself a nice fat raise. It didn’t matter our license sales (her department) were down and our Engineering Services (his department) sales were UP.

      The amount of surprise pikachu faces made when he left was truly facepalm worthy. They even tried to match his new salary to get him to stay. I am glad he wised up and left anyway!

      We are now puttering along with the President knowing he truly messed up.

  51. Another One*

    That was absolutely the right thing to do. It only benefits the employer if the employee doesn’t know that information.

    At my first office job (after I’d been there at least a year-and-a-half and after a “raise and lateral promotion”), I found out by accident that the summer helpers were making more than I was. The summer helpers were working for a couple of months between high school and the start of college and had NO experience. I was showing one young woman how to cash her check at the currency exchange and she was asking me about different numbers on her pay stub. Neither of us expected that I was making less than she was. It did confirm for me, though, that I could and should leave.

  52. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Even the percentages can help. Limits on raises went around the card table many moons ago, and one after the other all the men said they’d gotten the max%. All of the women had gotten magic beans. If there hadn’t been a reorganization that led to my department getting “rationalization raises” I wouldn’t be there now.

  53. J.B.*

    My favorite salary experience was when a colleague of mine and I (guess what gender) both got “merit” raises which actually brought us up to the pay band minimum. A jerk manager when he heard that a limited number of people got those “merit” raises got all mad because he didn’t get to recommend who got them. I can’t possibly guess why there was a pay disparity to begin with!

  54. agnes*

    Bravo for you. The fact that your colleague was shocked is exactly what should happen when salary inequities are brought to light.

  55. CW*

    I will have to admit the title threw me off, and I thought you were discussing your salary with your current coworkers. But you weren’t. And you were right to do so. Some companies think they can pay as little as possible. And I have been there on the receiving end of it – it doesn’t bode well for either side.

    Sounds like your friend got lowballed. And that’s not right. Companies that do this only do themselves a disservice. What are the odds that the employee will jump ship sooner than expected? Become a disgruntled employee? Do as little as possible because he/she feels cheated? Have a worse that overall attitude? Very high if you do not pay fairly.

    In short, it was right you shared your salary with your friend/colleague. It makes things more transparent, and can help uncover salary disparities in the long run. Like sheesh, though. Your friend definitely deserves more.

  56. l33tGamerGirl*

    I genuinely wonder if people recognize that there is a reason there are ranges for jobs. I have 10 employees, who have different backgrounds, different reasons for being here, different roles – but all have the same technical HR title. We hire based on the individual and what they bring to the table. The salary range is incredibly vast: even though we are technical, we have background/education from GED to multiple masters, entry level to decades of experience.

    We tie salaries to responsibility and impact to revenue (we are all salaried, with a shared pool of revenue margin). So its impossible to be apples to apples in comparison to responsibility, needs, revenue, etc. So I wonder what happens when my team discusses salary. I have yet to have someone leave over it – in fact I’ve never had anyone leave my team, we continue to add but not replace – and we discuss during our performance reviews on what they are doing. I also proactively give raises – not when asked, but based on their output and growth and needs for next year. I hope I’m not screwing this up.

    1. Meep*

      I understand it but I have also watched managers use those ranges without merit. I did a lot of my manager’s job for her because she was (and still is) incompetent. I was being paid the least for doing the most amount of work and had more and more responsibilities heaped on me daily. Asking for more money for more work was met with guilt-tripping.

      Meanwhile, we had two interns being paid $23/hr and $20/hr. The logic was the one making $23/hr needed to pay extra for transportation, but oh wait! “Meep, would you drive her each day? It would be a nice personal touch!” Guess which one actually wanted to stay with the company? It is the same one that got financially screwed over because we are just spoiled rich kids as we went to college.

      The point is, there is a reason for it, but abuse happens on the side of management a lot more than not.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      I’m pretty sure that you’re going fine — IF you genuinely feel that if a lower paid employee came up and asked you why another employee had a different pay, you could point to the specific metrics to justify different salaries. (And thus also tell them what they need to do to get the same.)

      There are few places where everyone’s pay is in lockstep, even in government positions where salaries are public. And it rarely goes well if pay doesn’t have some basis in performance or seniority at all. What is being talked about here is extreme discrepancies that have no justification.

  57. Meep*

    I had a really crappy manager who constantly acknowledged that I should be paid more but there wasn’t “the budget” for it. In actuality, what that meant was she was advocating for herself and wanted to keep my pay amount low. Any time I suggested that I might think about asking for a raise, the guilt trip came out. It didn’t matter that we were already paying lower than the industry standards. We were expected to be loyal and work long hours that would nearly kill us and it would “pay off”.

    Fast forward, I had been at the company for 2.5 years and I watched a colleague get a raise after 9 months. The difference? Her manager advocated for her while mine sabotaged me. My manager told her not to tell me, but my colleague told me anyway. It annoyed me to no end. Well, I got a new manager (thankfully!) and 3 months later, I had a raise too! It was less, but it was a raise and the new management improved my mental health, which was priceless.

    Here comes my old manager trying to take all the credit and glory for “advocating” for me. Telling me how the President wanted to pay me less but I was worth it! It was a load of crap. She knew it. I knew it. If it had been up to her, I would’ve been fired to cover up her incompetence. Six thousand didn’t make up for the crap she put me through. But I did learn a valuable lesson when it was finally time to work up the courage to ask for a raise – don’t go through her!

    I ended up going straight to the President and got my raise within 3 weeks! (which is pretty good at my company) in addition to additional vacation days. She tried to block me in that time period, despite him agreeing instantly, so I did lose out on two pay periods, but oh well. Two days later, my coworker I mentioned before also got a raise and extra vacation days no fuss and was approached about it. It was mildly annoying after having fought for it, but I also acknowledge it was 100% my fault for putting my faith in someone I knew was a self-centered pathological liar for 2.5 years and believing her when she made me feel like I wasn’t worth it.

    1. CW*

      Is your former boss a covert narcissist or a modern-day Scrooge? Either way, I am glad she no longer manages you.

      And loyalty? Pay off and working long hours? Bullshit, and everyone knows it.

  58. Talktoeachother*

    This is why we need to normalize disclosing salaries to friends and colleagues. The company always wins when employees are left in the dark about where we stand compared to our contemporaries.

  59. Magda*

    I remember in the hashtag “publishing paid me” the discourse spilled off course – from helping minority/POC authors understand what other authors were making, into a lot of personal sniping. I also noticed that for the most it was female authors speaking up, and thus getting the backlash, while white male authors mostly kept silent (they were probably making more than anyone). But an author mentor of mine reminded me that it was *still the right thing to do* to speak up and share and be transparent, even if you got some dumb comments for doing so.

  60. CanuckGirl in Cowtown*

    I work for a large multi-national company (~100K employees) as a people manager. What I have consistently found is that the people who have been with this company the longest and have moved up in their responsibilities are almost always the worst paid. They take a new role, with an increase in job stage there never seems to be an automatic increase in salary. I had to coach one of my employees out – there was no way for me to bring them up to what they should be making – think 10+ years with the company and making less than the new grads. They we hired into another group and asked for an appropriate salary and got it. They were the 3rd in just my team – all people I had hired from other organizations – the other two I was able to get additional increases for them as they were not as far out of line. The company is willing to pay reasonable salaries to meet current market as people hired from the outside will come in at a good salary often better than long standing employees doing the same job. We also do yearly salary reviews and we are budgeted a certain percentage increase and it’s budgeted for each employee to get that amount – but the manager’s have discretion to spread that money out in any way they see fit as long as they are within the budget (eg – the budget is 3% and your total team salary is $1.5M you have a budget of $45K for your team but you can give 1% to one employee and 5% to another).

  61. Questioning my employment*

    Honest related question… Is it normal for a company to say you aren’t allowed to share salary info? My boss everytime I have my review advised me that it was confidential and wasn’t to be shared with anyone…

    1. Eliza*

      If you’re covered by the NLRA (contractors and some specific categories of employee aren’t, but most are), it’s straight-up illegal to prevent you from sharing salary info.

    2. the Viking Diva*

      It’s common but not necessarily legal! Alison has discussed this. For example, see the post indexed as my-company-wants-to-stop-me-from-discussing-my-salary-with-coworkers

      1. Questioning my employment*

        I’m in Canada but now I’m going to do some research as I didn’t even consider it being legal or not before this post. Thanks for the tips!

  62. Laurie Schmid*

    Government website where you can get accurate pay data. https://data bls.gov/oes/#/home
    It was super helpful to me when negotiating my pay. It narrowed it down to my metro area for pay for my job title. Instead of some Facebook or Glassdoor claim, it is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Division of Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

  63. CatBookMom*

    Don’t feel badly that you shared this; you may help your former co-worker to deal better, to find ways to improve the job.

    After a year or so at my ‘best job’ in the late 80s, I found that my male predecessor, with fewer credentials, no obvious improvements left to his successors (at least not according to what I was ever told), had gotten paid $6K more than I was getting – when I thought my salary was pretty good, and a big step up from my previous job.

    I eventually got a lot of raises, through my own doing, my own ideas, and some people in the subsidiaries got less work to do. That was satisfying, as well as rewarding; and maybe the previous slacker’s salary was part of me reaching out, trying new things.

    1. CatBookMom*

      I should revise this to say that “some people in the subsidiaries got less work to do,” because of computers, to get the same results. I streamlined a lot of pencil/spreadsheet stuff into computer spreadsheets, and everything went together much faster, with less effort on their part. And mine. We spent a LOT less on the costs of outside accountants’ clerical staff just copying our paper spreadsheets into computer input pages, which we then had to correct, and pay them more to re-cycle. I saved $50K annually in tax-return costs alone; I got $5k, as I’d bet my grand-boss I could save.

  64. Takibabe*

    In Colorado, as of January of 2021, it is required that companies disclose at least a pay range for positions being advertised. It’s one of the provisos of SB 19-085 that went into effect this year. Pay transparency is always always always in favour of the worker.

    1. CatBookMom*

      Good for Colorado! Thanks for sharing this. Yes, pay transparency is in favor of the workers.

  65. Betsy S*

    My only concern is: did OP ask the coworker if he wanted to know, or just come out with it?
    I have a coworker who is adamant that he does NOT want to know, because he does not want to experience any resentment or frustration around it. Whatever anyone thinks of his choice, I think he has the right to make it.

  66. Perthbunny*

    I recently found out what a co-worker was making and entirely by accident. She wanted to show me her working hours not realising her annual pay was on the line below.
    Since then I’ve been considering leaving as th inequity is just too great. Not only do I have about 5 years more experience in the role, but I actually trained her in the new position as she started 5 months after me, and have contributed significantly to the company beyond what my role would normally encompass. For that I work an extra 3 hours a week and get paid 10k less.
    I was very unhappy but haven’t taken this up with management at present as she doesn’t want any repercussions for accidentally sharing the information and I want to be in the best position possible before I bring up a raise. But I’m also quietly looking..

  67. Celestine*

    You did the right thing, OP.

    That unspoken rule of workplace etiquette exists to benefit employers, *not* employees. And this is exactly why.

  68. 3co*

    Telling a coworker your salary isn’t what created the unfair situation–and if you hadn’t told him, that situation could have continued indefinitely. Even if the company he’s currently at won’t give him a large enough raise, maybe this will give him the confidence to apply elsewhere and negotiate for a better salary. I think a lot of people (and maybe especially people who come from less-affluent backgrounds) don’t know what their skills are actually worth.

    A few years ago, I was badly underpaid. But I was earning more than most of my friends (who worked in a completely different field). Right out of college I was earning about as much money as my mom did (also in a different field). So for several years I didn’t realize that I was being egregiously underpaid by the standards of my own profession.

    But then I discovered that the next-lowest-paid person on my team was earning 40% more than I was for the same kind of work. It felt really shitty. I was crushed. I cried when I brought it up with my manager. But knowing about that disparity empowered me to get a significant raise and a promotion, and then motivated me to apply for a new job, where I do feel like I’m fairly compensated. It was an upsetting but ultimately constructive experience.

  69. JBC*

    It’s so important for pay to be transparent.
    I took a position that had me and one other person, both doing the exact same work with the exact same titles, in the office together all day. One day we our salaries came up and I found out that I was hired at 5k a year less than she was, even though she had zero experience and I had years of experience. I brought this up to the owner who had hired us, and her response was to offer me a small raise that still did not bring us up to the same pay, and then she told my coworker that she would not be getting a raise during her performance review because I “complained about the difference in pay”.
    This really brought out the true colors of the owner and I quit right when I realized that she had attempted to blame me for the lack in pay raise.

    This story may seem like a reason to keep it quiet, but I am happy that I learned our difference in salary and brought it up with the owner. I had years of experience that was being taken advantage of. And I learned that the person I was working for was toxic and would ultimately throw her employees under the bus before she would take any responsibility for her decisions.

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