I got in trouble for talking to my coworker about how much money I make

A reader writes:

Recently, I was given feedback from my manager stating they had concerns with confidentiality and discretion when it came to my work. They said it had been brought to their attention that I had shared what my salary was with a team member. My manager did not share who it was, for confidentiality reasons, but I have only spoken to one person about salary and that is my team member “Rachel.” Both of us are women, started the same week, and I felt it important to share. Rachel had told me she had asked for a raise and been denied for several reasons that did not seem valid to her. I was under the impression this was a private conversation between Rachel and me, and I told my manager that workplaces cannot prevent employees from discussing salary.

My manager then said that Rachel was made to feel that I and/or my work was more important than hers. I remember my conversation with Rachel as me sharing that I couldn’t believe that she was denied a raise and that she deserved appropriate compensation for her work. She didn’t tell me she felt my work or I were more important, but I acknowledge that she could have felt this way. I feel awful that she could have felt this way because I don’t think that my work is more important. In fact, I’m confident the only reason I got a raise is that my workload was requiring me to dip into the overtime budget too much, and with the raise, I was moved to exempt.

I want to talk to Rachel about this, but I am concerned because of how this was presented to me by my manager. First, it was about confidentiality and discretion, and then it was about how it made someone feel. Because of that, this whole situation feels off to me. I feel like trust is broken between Rachel and me, and now I am going to be labeled as someone who doesn’t respect confidentiality. My manager mentioned my desire to move up within the company several times during our conversation and I’m concerned for my future. Is it appropriate for me to speak with Rachel about this? How do I go about navigating this with my manager? I feel blindsided and am now lacking trust in my team. Am I overreacting?

Your manager is almost certainly BS’ing you. See through the con!

Based on what you’ve shared, the most likely scenario is:

* You and Rachel discussed your salaries and you confirmed her feeling that she should be getting paid more. You did not make her feel that you or your work were more important than hers.

* Rachel asked your boss for more money and cited what you’re earning as part of her case for deserving a raise.

* Your boss is pissed off that you shared your salary with Rachel, because it makes it harder for her to convince Rachel she’s appropriately paid for her work.

* Your boss wants to discourage you from talking about salary with your coworkers — even though it’s illegal for companies to prohibit that among non-management employees — and so she told you she has concerns about your “confidentiality and discretion,” hoping that would intimidate you into not doing it again.

* When you pointed out that you’re legally entitled to talk about your salary with coworkers, she changed her story and said her real concern was that you made Rachel feel less important than you. (That’s very telling, by the way! Your manager is upset that by sharing your salary, you let Rachel know that the company does indeed value her less in real terms — dollars. But that’s about how the company values Rachel, not how you feel.)

* Now she has you feeling guilty, which means you’ll probably hesitate to share salary information with coworkers in the future, and she’s created tension between you and Rachel, which undermines the solidarity you two had formed around salary. That’s a win for a company that doesn’t want salary transparency among its employees and doesn’t want workers organizing with each other.

* She also mentioned your desire to move up in the company several times in this conversation, implying that you’ll need to stop talking about salary with coworkers if you want to be promoted … even though it’s illegal for companies to do that. She’s trying to dress it up as “discretion and confidentiality” but that’s like objecting to you reporting discrimination because of “manners and respect.”

You get to talk about salary with your coworkers; that’s a right enshrined in law. “Discretion and confidentiality” has nothing to do with it, unless you’re a manager trying to intimidate employees into not exercising a legally protected right … which she is.

I strongly suspect that if you talk to Rachel, you’ll find that her conversation with your manager wasn’t about how you made her feel. It was about wanting more money. And yes, part of her argument for wanting more money was probably that she feels the company is undervaluing her relative to what they’re paying you. Those feelings are about the company, not you.

Don’t let your manager’s manipulation work. Consider reporting to HR that your manager implied you wouldn’t be promoted if you continue to exercise a legally protected right. (That says “consider” not “do” because whether to do it depends on what you know of your HR, how your manager might be inclined to retaliate, whether HR is likely to prevent said retaliation, and how much capital you want to invest in this generally.) But most importantly, keep talking to your coworkers about money if you’re comfortable continuing. When a company is actively trying to get you not to, that’s a sign it’s all the more important to do it.

{ 225 comments… read them below }

  1. 3DogNight*

    Reiterating the advice here. Change every time your manager said “you made” to “the company made” and you’ll get the real story here. They just don’t want to give her the money.

    1. Allornone*

      Exactly this. The whole time poor OP is lamenting how awful they might have made Rachel feel, I kept thinking- Crap, YOU didn’t make her feel this way. THE COMPANY made her feel this way by not compensating her work appropriately. THEY are the ones who make her not feel valued because THEY are actively not supporting the way her work deserves. It’s not you, OP. It’s them. Listen to Alison; your company is in the wrong here, not you.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        And if Alison hasn’t convinced you, OP, ask @JortsTheCat on Twitter. He may just be a simple orange boy, but he has some very good friends who have very good thoughts about labor.

    2. Lynca*

      Also you can keep talking to Racheal! I think it’s valuable for her to know how the manager treated you about this and how her words were twisted.

      This is bad behavior and needs to be exposed rather than covered up.

    3. RC Rascal*

      Change “the company” to “the manager”. At a lot of companies there is manager discretion in how budget is allocated to salary; the gaslighting manager is likely the one who decided not to pay Rachel fairly in the first place.

      I have seen something very similar to this play out before; in that situation Rachel had to leave the company to get paid fairly.

      Additionally, your manager has given you another important piece of information: she pits people against each other and gaslights as a management technique.

      1. Turnip Soup*

        A good company does regular audits and training to ensure that this type of salary discrepancy does not happen. The manager handled this in a BS way but the company structure allowed and likely encouraged it.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Yup. There’s enough blame to go around here. The only ones not in the wrong are OP and Rachel.

    4. Your Local Password Resetter*

      Exactly. You didn’t do anything here, you just pointed out what the company did.
      And now your manager is trying to push the blame onto you because you didn’t cover up their mistreatment of their employees.

    5. InTrouble - OP*

      Hi! I’m the OP – and I appreciate AAMs thoughts so much! I wanted to say your comment (and so many others) helped me see this through the eyes of my teammate and how she didn’t break my trust – just advocating for herself.

    6. Petty Betty*

      This. Absolutely. 100%.

      The manager was projecting the company’s (and the manager’s) actions and intentions onto LW.

      In no way should LW feel any shame or guilt for discussing her salary with Rachel. She absolutely did Rachel a favor. The boss (and by extension, the company) is the one doing Rachel the disservice by undervaluing Rachel’s contributions, and by trying to manipulate the situation and trying to drive a wedge between the two women.

      Now is the time to circle back to Rachel and make sure that the two of you are on the same page about what this boss just did, because this won’t be the last time this boss pulls a stunt like this and it’s best to recognize how he plays his game so you can be better prepared for the next incident (and maybe even shut it down early).

  2. Mike*

    That the company is uneasy about employees discussing salary is not surprising to me at all — keeping up the “taboo” about discussing salaries is a great cost saver for private sector businesses. It just goes to show you that private companies will almost always value withholding information from their employees, and even deceiving them, if it means a better bottom line. This is also why private sector jobs almost never show salary ranges in job descriptions.

    I only left the private sector when I saw that the salary for a public sector job, which I was extremely qualified for and wasn’t a substantial promotion in terms of work responsibilities, paid *significantly higher* than what I was making in the private sector for a successful company.

    Information sharing is empowering, as the LW discovered. That’s good for employees and bad for employers. Keep talking!

  3. Jean*

    Start documenting now OP. Your manager has most likely already started thinking about/planning how to shut you down.

    1. Cait*

      This! Document this conversation and every following conversation about your work, your salary, your discussion with Rachel, and anything else that has to do with this scenario. That way, if she does pass you over for a promotion as retaliation for exercising your right to talk about your salary, you’ll have ample evidence to take to HR or a lawyer.

      1. InTrouble - OP*

        Thank you for this advice. I will absolutely start documenting appropriately. I did already let my manager know that I wanted to talk more about this and possibly can ask her to follow-up with my in writing too.

    2. Polar Vortex*

      Also if you can get any of this in writing from your manager – via chat, via email, whatever – in a way that doesn’t show you’re trying to document this, do it and save that interaction to all the things. (Thumb drive, email it to a personal email, etc.)

      Heck if you’re in a one party consent state, I’d be tempted to record meetings where you talk about it because I’d be very concerned that you’ll be unable to move forward in your career. (I may be projecting there, I had a manager prevent me from moving on and it’s still messing up my career.) ((Additional note, be aware that recording conversations differ on the medium you are having the conversation in – in person vs electronic, etc. I am not a lawyer, but know your rights as well as what could actually get you in trouble for trying to protect yourself.))

      1. ecnaseener*

        Even in a one-party consent state, it’s almost certainly not allowed by the employer. Be very careful about giving them a legit reason to fire you – I’m guessing (? IANAL) that they’d be able to legally fire you simply for making the recording, even if you were doing it to document illegal behavior.

        1. Clisby*

          In the US, employers generally don’t need a “legit” reason to fire you – they can fire you because they woke up in a crabby mood that morning.

          1. Grits McGee*

            Sure, but when you’re filing for unemployment or interviewing for a new job, there’s a world of difference between “OP was fired for participating in a legally-protected activity/OP was fired for squishy reasons that are a coverup for being fired for participating in a legally-protected activity” vs “OP was fired for secretly recording their boss without boss’s knowledge or consent.” The latter is going to give any outsider concerns about OP’s judgment.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Right, but they can’t fire you for an illegal reason… such as retaliation for discussing wages.

            That means that the company is on very shaky ground if they try to fire LW for something that seems frivolous right now, because a court is likely to see right through it. Nobody will believe they actually fired LW for having an annoying laugh or whatever when the boss recently made ominous comments telling LW to stop exercising a protected right. It’s a laughably obvious pretext for retaliation.

            On the other hand, they probably can get away with firing her for violating company policy as long as they can reasonably show that they’re not enforcing it unfairly. If they have a policy against secret recordings and fire anyone who breaks the rule, they’d be pretty safe firing her for doing it. On the other hand, even if their policy says a certain thing will result in immediate termination they’d be in trouble if she can show that it’s not typically enforced except when the company is retaliating.

          3. quill*

            Yeah but why they fire you can affect whether you get unemployment. If they fire you for having poor posture and deny the unemployment claim, it’s clearly ridiculous. If they fire you for embezzlement… well. There goes your reputation.

      2. Omnivalent*

        Don’t do this unless you have spoken to an experience employment lawyer who says it’s OK to record the boss. Most of the time it won’t be.

        1. DrRat*

          Yeah, at my company recording any employee on company time using any device is grounds for immediate termination for cause. To even take a group photo for a celebration they have to get permission from higher ups and from every single person in the photo.

  4. old curmudgeon*

    I also note your comment that in giving you more money, they moved you into FLSA-exempt status. It might be worth checking to confirm that you really ARE exempt, because sometimes companies do that as a way to get around FLSA requirements. The fact that your manager is trying to intimidate you into not sharing your salary information makes me wonder if they also skirted the legalities of your status under the FLSA.

    1. That_guy*

      I had exactly the same thought when I read that part.
      “I’m confident the only reason I got a raise is that my workload was requiring me to dip into the overtime budget too much, and with the raise, I was moved to exempt.”
      This part raised all kinds of alarm bells.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          Same here. I won a wage theft claim against a former employer in the 1990s because they hired me as a “publications manager” and expected me to work on salary but my position didn’t meet any of the criteria for an exempt position. After I found a better job closer to home, I filed a claim with the Department of Labor for overtime pay and they didn’t contest it.

    2. Double A*

      Yes, this jumped out to me immediately! Just because you are over the compensation threshold doesn’t automatically make you exempt. I would look into this IMMEDIATELY.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        It would be worth speaking to NLRB for advice about both the salary issue and the reclassification. It also gives some good ammo when you go to HR and say, “I was confused about this conversation with my manager and being reclassified without a change in duties, so I spoke to NLRB. They told me….”

    3. Clisby*

      +100. Getting a raise that takes you to a level required for being exempt is not enough. The job itself has to qualify as being exempt.

    4. Lalchi11*

      This was my immediate thought, too. A change in pay should not impact exempt/no exempt status, unless it was also a promotion with different duties.

      1. Cynan*

        I guess it could if your duties already qualified for exempt status and it was just your salary that was below the threshold… but that seems kinda unlikely, considering the threshold is pretty low to begin with and most people with exempt duties are above it.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          It depends on the state, somewhat–NYS just bumped up the exempt threshhold to close to 60k–I was hired as an exempt worker (by duties and pay), but when the threshold was raised, I almost became non-exempt, even though my duties were staying the same; my boss had to fight for a raise for me

        1. Laney Boggs*

          The movie *Gaslight* is where we get the term gaslighting from.
          Never seen it, my knowledge is just internet osmosis, but the abuser would alter the gaslights in their home(?) and then tell the protag/victim that nothing has changed and she was wrong.

          1. Laney Boggs*

            LOL, I need to up my reading comprehension. Thought Suey said “is that a quote from A movie”

            So sorry for pedantic-ness :)

          2. Bryce*

            Among other things, yes. I believe his plan was to make her seem unstable so when he killed her it would be believed suicide? I saw it once as a kid, don’t remember much except Jessica Fletcher being in it.

            1. Jam on Toast*

              Evil conman is secretly looking for valuables in the house his wife inherits. The house is lit with gas, and just like the shower going cold when someone flushes the toilet, the lights in the house dim when he’s creeping about, secretly searching. He slowly chips away at her sanity, denying that things have moved or the lights have changed as part of his long-term plan to have her death ruled a suicide, after which he’ll inherit a tidy profit and the secret fortune, too.

          3. yala*

            It’s a pretty good movie, but my favorite thing about it is that for years my best friend was CERTAIN he’d watched it with our roommate, who was equally certain that she’d never seen it.

              1. yala*

                We did eventually solve the mystery. One of those “remember when” facebook posts popped up, with them making the inside joke about the movie he remembered them having. Friend still has zero memory, but thinks that she may have seen some of it while he was watching.

                For fun though, sometimes I like to tell him I’ve never seen it.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I have a pretty good memory, but for some reason I have a terrible time remembering who I’ve done something with or told a story to. My roommate now laughs every time I ask her if she’s ever seen a movie, since she usually watched it with me. I could tell you the entire plot of the movie, but I still don’t remember watching it with her.

          4. Wisteria*

            The abuser would go to the attic and turn on the gas lighting up there, which would cause the lights in the part of the house where Ingrid Bergman’s character was to dim. That’s how she figured out what was up.

            There were separate shenanigans that he pulled to cause her to doubt her memories and actions.

          5. iiii*


            He had only married her to get access to her house. He was sure a lot of stolen jewelry was hidden in the attic. Whenever he turned on the gaslights in the attic so he could search, the other lights in the house would dim. She was all, ‘what’s up with that’ and he was like, ‘what’s up with what? nothing happened.’

            Something that often gets lost when we talk about ‘gaslighting’ is that making her crazy, or seem crazy to outsiders, wasn’t his primary goal. Goal one was getting the jewelry. The lies were just cover. He didn’t hesitate to capitalize on the confusion he inflicted on her, but that wasn’t his *point.*

  5. Silence Will Fall*

    I’d like to highlight that an increase in salary is not the only criteria for changing from non-exempt to exempt. Unless your job duties also changed, there may be additional shady practices in place.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Technically, it’s possible that someone could meet the requirements for an administrative professional but not be exempt because they’re under the salary basis threshold. In that case, a raise that puts them over that threshold could make them exempt without a change in duties. But unless I’m seriously misreading DOL guidance, the current threshold is $684/week (or $17.10/hour), and I find it unlikely that anyone making less than that would meet the job duty requirements.

      1. Liz T*

        There are still duty requirements.

        You can’t be exempt BELOW that threshold, but being just above that threshold doesn’t on its own allow you to be exempt. It’s about the kind of work you do.

        In order for salary alone to make you exempt, you have to be paid way, way above that minimum eligibility threshold–it’s over $100k annually.

        (Yes, I spent 2+ years trying to explain this to my last employer, and they ignored me until an outside auditor told them the same thing. Yes it was the tip of the iceberg of their insulting illegal shenanigans.)

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Right. What I was trying (poorly) to explain was that it’s theoretically possible for someone to meet all the duty requirements of an exempt category but still be non-exempt because they don’t meet the salary requirement. If so, a raise that put them over the threshold would make them exempt without changing their duties. But the odds of someone meeting the duty requirements while not hitting the fairly meager salary requirement of $684/week seem low.

  6. MishenNikara*

    Document EVERYTHING that happens in case things horribly escalate and/or you need to report things to the NLRB. As Allison said preventing these sort of discussions is illegal.

    1. Omnivalent*

      It may also be illegal under state law. It is often faster and will get better results to pursue remedies under state law than the highly-policitized NLRB.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        And some states are very proactive, especially if OP is also misclassified as exempt to avoid paying overtime. I am in California and when I filed for wage theft after I was misclassified (but still tracked my hours) the employer didn’t even dispute the claim because you don’t F around and find out with the Department of Labor here.

  7. Sloanicota*

    Unfortunately, I find this to be so common. I’ve seen it happen twice in two different orgs; one person found out they were underpaid and tried to talk about it with the manager, but the manager shifted the conversation immediately to “who told you this? How did you find out??” It takes a dedicated and loyal person, with a prepared cover story, to save their colleague who generously shared salary info from getting dragged into it (and sometimes, if there’s only two people in the role, it’s *extremely* difficult to do). I guess when you share salary info, discuss a cover story with the person you’re sharing it with, and remind them to please not mention your name, assuming your company is typical.

    1. Sloanicota*

      For example, when I asked for salary info from colleagues, I asked only for a ballpark salary number (“in the mid sixties? In the low seventies?”) so that I could honestly say that nobody had shared specific salary info with me. I also obscured what I knew by finding supporting market data I could point to, and talking about positions in other orgs to deflect from the fact that my colleagues had shared their info.

      1. Becky*

        You shouldn’t have to jump through these hoops. It is straight up illegal to forbid or punish someone for sharing their salary.

    2. Lacey*

      In many companies it wouldn’t matter. If my coworker and I compared salaries, well, we’re the only two people in this department, so obviously I got the info from her.

      A former coworker of mine waited until I was leaving to ask me about salary and then she immediately leveraged it for a huge raise – good for her, but it sucks that she felt like she had to wait until I was leaving so it wouldn’t blow back on me.

  8. Hanani*

    LW should definitely talk to Rachel, if only to confirm your rapport and relationship (or re-establish the same, if Rachel is indeed working through some feelings about the company undervaluing her). This kind of strategy from your manager works in part by triangulation, everyone only hearing things second-hand from the manager. Who knows what your manager told Rachel!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Hey, Rachel, I want full disclosure here, I support your decision and effort to talk to manager about your raise, no matter what he tells you. I’m saying this because manager came to me with how I am making you feel bad and undervalued by sharing my salary, so I’m sure you are getting some version of me being a bad colleague and employee as well.
      At least his is completely transparent and utterly artless in his attempt to bury the fact he doesn’t want to pay your by turning us against each other.

    2. Lab Boss*

      This! In my experience 8 times out of 10, if someone tells you “oh, you made this other person mad” then the other person is not, in fact, mad. At best the person telling you is just wrong, and more commonly they’re trying to manipulate you through guilt.

      Luckily it’s so easy to short-circuit that by goin to the allegedly upset person directly. Proceed with some caution in case they really are mad at you for some reason, but you’ll usually find out that they’re as surprised as you to hear about their supposed anger.

      1. Jora Malli*

        I had a boss who never held full team meetings and met with us individually every week instead. We found out after about a year that she was telling ALL of us that the rest of the team agreed with her and each of us was the only team member who wasn’t on board. When we started talking to each other and comparing notes, it turned out we all agreed with each other and not with her.

        I said all of that to say to the OP, what your boss told you Rachel said may not be what Rachel said.

      2. Lacey*

        YUP. I had a manager who would lie about what other people thought/felt all the time.
        He vastly underestimated how much time we had to stand around and gossip.
        We all knew we couldn’t trust him in a matter of days.

      3. Le Sigh*

        Yeah this has some real middle school vibes to me, where someone in the group calls you to tell you so-and-so is mad, and then pits people against one another for whatever their goal is.

        An early retail job had an oft-stated rule by managers that we weren’t allowed to discuss salary and if we tried to argue for a raise based on info we got from coworkers, it was null and we’d be in trouble. Which is, as I later learned, illegal and if I had to guess, that rule was never written down, only verbally stated. But it had the exact effect they intended.

      4. Tomato Frog*

        Oh man, flashback to the one time in high school when a teacher told me I had upset his wife (also a teacher). I went to her almost in tears because I felt so bad and she was like “What are you talking about? I wasn’t upset at all.”

        Thanks for the new rule of thumb.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Yeah this whole thing makes me yell in my best Admiral Ackbar voice “it’s a trap! it’s a trap!”

      5. Not So NewReader*

        I have had this one used on me.

        Boss: “Sue has issues with you!”

        Me: “oh, I am sorry to hear that! I like Sue both personally and professionally. I think we should go over right now and talk to her. I will just explain that YOU brought it to my attention that she has concerns with me and I would like us to work that through right now.”

        Boss: (Grabbing my arm so hard and so fast as I tried to start over to Sue) “Oh. It was a while ago. I guess it wasn’t that big a deal. Just forget it.

        Me: oh, well it seemed like a big deal when you initially mentioned it. I really thing we need to sit down and talk.

        Boss: [Permanently cured on ever pulling this stunt with me again… wanders off shaking her head NO….)

    3. Becky*

      Yes, please don’t shut down the lines of communication with Rachel over this. I feel like AAM nailed what happened in this scenario – and if I was Rachel, I would absolutely want to know how it went down.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Also, even if Rachel did break down and say “OP told me they’re making this” and you do feel kind of ‘thrown under the bus’ – (I’ve seen this dynamic and it’s understandable) try to have compassion for how very hard it is to have these salary negotiation conversations, especially once your boss starts pressing for information. I have flubbed salary conversations several times because I was so nervous and stressed out, even when I *wasn’t* also trying to protect someone else’s confidentiality in the face of direct pressure. Let Rachel apologize if she wants to and try to accept it.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          Definitely. And all the responsibility for this lies with your manager. It’s not like Rachel lied or deliberately made you look bad, it’s just that your boss is unreasonable and will punish people for doing completely normal and reasonable things.

        2. Don't Be Longsuffering*

          I don’t think Rachel needs to apologize. The boss does, but Rachel is just trying to get equitable pay. Stick together, OP.

  9. middle name danger*

    As others have mentioned, find out if your job truly should be exempt. Unless you’re a manager yourself, chances are you’re still owed overtime. And since we’re talking about non-manager employees discussing salary, it doesn’t feel like you are.

    1. Shhh*

      LW should definitely look into whether they should be exempt, but whether one is a manager isn’t the only thing separating the exempt vs non-exempt classifications. I’m not a manager but my job is absolutely one that should be classified as exempt because, as an academic librarian, I am definitely a “learned professional” under the DOL’s definitions.

      But yeah, based on how the LW described her move from non-exempt to exempt status, it’s definitely suspicious.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, it would be one thing if she moved into a different set of responsibilities. But doing the exact same job, but suddenly not being paid for OT…. That’s sketchy as heck.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        That’s not the only classification categorisation either. In some cases, lawsuit results have declared that engineers should be paid on an hourly basis to prevent overtime abuse.

  10. Rhianna*

    I recently had a very similar conversation with a manager. I was told that “as a leader in the organization” I shouldn’t discuss salary because it’s “misleading” to others since I’m at “another level”. As if I hadn’t had that exact job and can accurately talk about what I earned when in that position and how my salary has changed as I’ve moved within the organization.
    After thinking about things, I did send an email to my boss & the VP of HR documenting my conversation, and that my federal rights were violated. The VP of HR reached out to me immediately with an open invitation to discuss anything, regardless of her being on vacation. I was very clear that I appreciate what the organization has done for me, and that I would just like this discussion to end, including at the manager level where I don’t have visibility.
    Since then, I’ve 100% talked about salaries with team mates and anyone who feels the need to understand where they are. I will continue to do this so that we can all help lift each other up and support each other in our careers.

    1. CG*

      Oh yeah, after this conversation, I would want to triple down and discuss salary with *everybody*, along with mentioning our legal rights and employer’s obligations.

      1. AJoftheInternet*

        “So, Bob, how about that game last weeken-”
        *CG appears next to Bob* “So, Bob, what do you make? Jenny makes 60 and Dean makes 55 and Moe makes 87 and you’re next on my list!”

        1. Purple Cat*

          Eh, I’m fully comfortable sharing my OWN salary, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to share other people’s salaries unless they’ve given approval for it to be shared.

            1. Despachito*

              I think what Purple Cat says is legitimate and fair – I have the right to share my own information but not that of others without their consent.

    2. Kella*

      “I was told that “as a leader in the organization” I shouldn’t discuss salary because it’s “misleading” to others since I’m at “another level”.”

      Were they under the impression that employees aren’t aware that leadership roles get paid more?

  11. Not My Money*

    Talking about money got me an additional $500 per week and I’m still not paid what I’m worth. I’m working on upping my rate but did I feel undervalued by my colleagues when I found out what they were making? No – I felt undervalued and exploited by my employer. Keep talking.

      1. Not My Money*

        I’m in a niche, freelance type job that can be union or non-union but the union side has 2 branches (east and west coast) and one has scale rates while the other does not (I’m in the does not). I finally started talking to the other coast and realized that people who I had started training were now making more than me as a matter of course. So I turned down work until someone paid what I was asking and then on the next job, with the same people, I got $400 more per week and the job coming up after that one is another $100 per week. I now make what my trainee has been making and will aim for even more on the following jobs.

  12. Seriously?*

    I once told the Head at my school how myself and teachers from a different grade team and worked together to solve an issue. I saw it as a positive. He called them in and yelled at them for discussing students in the teacher’s lounge. What?! Not what I said AT ALL. It damaged my relationship with the teachers and I had to earn back their trust. And I NEVER trusted him again. I told him the bare minimum from then on.

    Talk to Rachel.

  13. A.N. O'Nyme*

    LW, based on what I’ve learned about being exempt…are you absolutely sure you qualify for that status? I’m not American so I may be wrong, but this feels…off.

    Also, you have now learned you cannot believe a word that comes out of your manager’s mouth. It’s up to you what you do with that information.

    1. Random Bystander*

      I agree–it seemed like a factor that slipped under the radar with the rest of the wrong in the LW’s situation.

  14. ThatGirl*

    I had an awkward moment a couple weeks ago, the day after AAM posted the salary survey. Now, I know it’s not an official industry resource or anything, but I posted the link in my team’s Teams chat – which, I should note, my manager is part of. There are about 7 of us, and she’s new to managing all of us this year. I’m the only person in my exact role, and I simply shared it with the idea of in case you’re curious how your pay compares to other people in similar roles, this is a good resource. That was all – I wasn’t saying “hey tell me how much you earn! let’s all talk about pay here!” and it got no response from anyone at the time.

    But the next day my manager, in our normal 1 on 1, very nicely expressed that she felt it was “inappropriate” and made some vague references that other people on our team might be unhappy with their pay and wondering if it was passive-aggressive on my part.

    And I was just a little bewildered – I didn’t want to die on that hill, so I apologized, assured her I was not unhappy with my pay, and deleted the Teams post. But I also thought — okay, you misunderstood my intentions here, or you’re feeling guilty about people’s pay, but how is that /my/ problem?

    1. bamcheeks*

      But the next day my manager, in our normal 1 on 1, very nicely expressed that she felt it was “inappropriate” and made some vague references that other people on our team might be unhappy with their pay and wondering if it was passive-aggressive on my part


      1. ThatGirl*

        In case this needs clarification: my read of this was that she’d heard some displeasure voiced (whether explicitly or not, I couldn’t say) from my coworkers over pay, and so she wondered if my posting that link was passive-aggressive voicing of displeasure on my part.

        of course it was not, and I am not generally a passive-aggressive person, but I also really didn’t want to spend 20 minutes hashing it out with her. so I just assured her I wasn’t unhappy and let it go. but … it did give me some different insight into her thought process, let’s just say that.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I totally get why you might not want to hash it out (been there with frustrating manager dynamics). But, if it’s helpful in the future, I’ve framed it as, “Oh, I’m quite happy! I just came across this and thought it was helpful info to have. I find that it’s important for all of us to be having these conversations regularly and openly, so that people have the information and confidence to advocate for themselves throughout their careers, no matter where they’re working. So many studies have show it’s a problem among women and people of color, and these conversations can help with creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces, which I know is really important to the company and our management team.”

          Or something along those lines. Basically tossing it back at them and forcing them to look like they don’t care about equity and inclusion. Many managers are paying lip service and don’t actually care (even some will just say out loud that they don’t) — but I work in a space where that would be a bad look and so it had the effect of forcing them to just let it go.

          1. ThatGirl*

            yeah, that would have been a smart response, but I was very surprised in the moment and didn’t think that quickly!

            1. Le Sigh*

              Oh it’s really hard to do this stuff in the moment, esp. when people spring it on you! I usually only can do it if I have some practice and/or feel pretty confident in what I want to say. I just wanted to share some framing that has helped me.

            2. quill*

              Oh yes, you gotta pre-prepare for a lot of these things in order to bulldoze right through the implications and interpersonal tension.

              Next time, if you have any ability to see it coming, get some scripts. :)

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “other people on our team might be unhappy with their pay”

      And who’s in a position to do something about that, I wonder?

    3. RagingADHD*

      I have to say, I can certainly understand why a new manager might think you were passive-aggressively complaining instead of raising your concern with them directly.

      In the absence of other context and to someone who doesn’t know you well, it really does sound extremely PA.

  15. Chairman of the Bored*

    I was recently involved in some company “leadership” training, which actually was 95% “company stooge” training.

    One of the things they included in the class is that as (notional) leaders the people in the class should discourage their employees from comparing notes on compensation, as knowledge of any disparities might lead to poor morale.

    I mentioned in open session that this would actually be illegal, the way to fix low morale resulting from pay disparities is to actually correct those disparities, and that I encourage my employees to openly discuss their pay with each other.

    Somehow this made me the bad guy. Go figure.

    1. Shrinking Violet*

      “Somehow this made me the bad guy. Go figure.”
      The saddest part of this is that this isn’t surprising. Not one little bit.

    2. All the words*

      Sounds sadly familiar. This year after the round of annual review/raises we received a request from management to not discuss our salaries with our co-workers. Not being able to keep my mouth shut, I sent a brief, polite email to my manager, reminding him that per law we are allowed to discuss our wages with each other.

      His defense was “We didn’t tell you you can’t. We just ask that you don’t.”

    3. El l*

      The “(notional) leaders” part is what ties this all together.

      It is absolutely a management trick to butter people up rather than paying them more. It’s a lot cheaper to sling adjectives like “influential”, “leadership-quality”, and so on than to pay and promote people like they should.

  16. RussianInTexas*

    Background: I work for a family owned company with exceedingly stingy owners.
    My department consist of 4 people, the manager and 3 employees. The three of us are pretty open with one another, to the point of having dinners together, and talk about families, and you guessed it, money. Our manager is extremely absent – we all work from home, and I literally heard his voice once in the last years. He only e-mails when he needs some work stuff done. He is a good sales guy, but crappy manager, and basically fell in to the job.
    Last summer two of my colleagues got an extra envelope with their paycheck (yes, we get paper checks, direct deposit is too expensive), I did not. The colleagues shared what they got, and it was different amount. No explanation was given what it was for, why different, why I didn’t get any. With their permission I e-mailed to the owner’s wife, the CFO/payroll, asking if my extra pay got delayed. It took her days to reply that I am getting one with my next paycheck, sorry, didn’t notice you didn’t get one.
    I get mine, also different amount.
    The manager calls my coworker and chastises him for us “gossiping” about pay. Says the extra check is the WFH stipend, although no explanation about why the amount is different for everyone. My coworker told the manager that:
    A: it is perfectly legal for us to talk about pay.
    B: if the company actually properly explained what the checks were for, and how they were distributed, there would be no confusion.
    Of course during last holiday season, when everyone got a bonus check (1st ever, and we yet to get any raise in the last 4 years), the owner told every person “please do not tell your coworkers”.
    Of course we immediately told each other.

  17. Abogado Avocado*

    Just want to give props to Alison for an answer that is right on in every respect. And I want to encourage you, OP (as others here have done), to document everything in writing and not stop talking to Rachel. And if your gaslighting manager should raise this topic again, consider saying, “The National Labor Relations Act says employers can’t prevent employees from discussing wages and working conditions among themselves. You’re not trying to do that, are you?”

  18. Just So Tired*

    I agree with Allison’s advice as well…but I’d also consider that language “you MADE your coworker feel” a certain way. No – I made a statement and she (if the manager is to be believed here) had a reaction. That is not the same thing. I’m always wary of other people assigning intention to something I’ve said or done, especially if they weren’t a direct witness to it.

    1. mf*

      This is a good point. You can’t MAKE someone feel anything. Their feelings are their own reaction, colored by their personality and past experiences.

      The fact that the LW’s manager phrased it this you (“you made her feel bad!”) is highly manipulative!

      1. ND and awkward*

        Of course you can make people feel things, there are multiple unrelated industries built around making people feel things! It’s not applicable in this case, but the idea that you can abdicate responsibility for things you say because “you can’t MAKE someone feel anything” is several steps too far.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        The manager certainly HOPED she would MAKE the OP feel guilty about bringing up salary with a coworker, didn’t she? Otherwise, what’s the point of saying OP hurt Rachel’s feelings?

    2. The New Wanderer*

      And it’s so easy to buy into when you (as the employee) are a little afraid that sharing your salary *will* make other people feel things if there’s a significant difference in what people make. What they feel is and should be directed at the company, but it’s very easy to believe that your statement had X effect on someone and feel like it’s somehow your fault.

      But it’s garbage for the manager to push that onto you, to play on that fear. The company created the difference, it’s not like you personally decided this other person should be paid less! At no level is it your fault this situation exists – all you did was give another person relevant information that is legal to share for exactly this reason. The manager’s tactic is a dodge so they doesn’t have to have the awkward conversation about why someone might be paid less than another person in the same role, especially when it’s obvious that the reasons are BS.

  19. middlemgmt*

    One of my very first experiences in a “real” office, as an intern (later turned full time), was a co-intern asking how much i was making. I answered. and then the next day my boss reprimanded me for it (she had gone to him to ask for more money), all but saying that he would have fired me for talking to a co-worker about salary if I’d been full time rather than an intern and student, like he was doing me a favor by treating this as a learning experience. At the time I didn’t know my rights. I did not know that HE was the one not just wrong, but doing something illegal. He took advantage of my newness to the working world. After I left that job I realized how toxic of a manager he had really been. The worst kind of toxic, where he presents himself as super-positive while promoting an unhealthy lack of boundaries and work. The pay conversation was just one piece. He made our team into an ingroup and basically pitted us against he rest of the org (after he left, i was finally able to develop working relationships with other co-workers). He worked us to death during events (15+ hour days, not being allowed to sit while working). He relied on a passel of underpaid interns (we had probably 10+ per semester at one point – the whole office only had 25 full timers and he only had one full time DR) and he bullied us via “we’re all family” type of BS. he would pull a stunt where he’d call our significant others during our team meetings (during their own work days, no less). all because he thought it was funny. i ended up hiding a new relationship for 9 months because i’d seen him do this to everyone else.

    1. Thursday Next*

      wait wait wait wait – why on earth would he call significant others and what the hell did he say to them? How did he even have their numbers??

  20. Other Alice*

    Just putting this out here, it is possible that Rachel now resents LW for making more money than her. People are not always rational. However I think a private conversation with Rachel would clear that up. If she is upset, it would be like an overworked employee blaming a coworker who left rather than the manager who makes them do the work of two people rather than hiring a replacement. I really hope that’s not the case, but wanted to mention it anyway!

    LW you did nothing wrong, don’t let your manager intimidate you.

    1. anonymous73*

      I think that’s why it’s important the OP have a talk with Rachel and find out how she feels about the whole thing. Based on the manager’s response, I would assume nothing about Rachel’s feelings and go directly to the source.

      1. L-squared*

        I don’t think Rachel would be honest about it if she did resent OP. Most people rationally know its not the person’s fault, and so wouldn’t admit to being resentful of them, even if they actually are.

        1. quill*

          Yeah, but it’s more likely that the person already doing something shady (discouraging salary discussion) is lying than that they have a good grip on Rachel’s private resentment. Especially when this was alibi B.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes, but that’s not a reason to not talk to her. If anything, talking to her will help her realise that the resentfulness is misplaced and there’s not anything else to be upset about with OP.

  21. L-squared*

    The one thing I will say is I don’t think Rachel handled this well. Whether or not she deserves more money than she is making, really has nothing to do with what OP is making. If she feels she should make more, she should make the case base on her own merits. And I definitely don’t think that she should have called out OPs salary by name. She could just say “I’m aware I’m making less than other people in the department/with a similar role”.

    None of this is to take away from the bad behavior of the manager. But Rachel using this and calling out OPs salary specifically is why people don’t want to discuss their salary.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      I disagree. There is very legitimate reason for Rachel to compare specifically to LW – they are on the same team, presumably in the same position, and started at the same time. And how is someone supposed to ask for more pay “on their own merits” unless they have a point of comparison for the value of their skills? It’s very difficult to get specific salary comparisons where you know the conditions, skills, duties, and local market are a perfect match for what you do.

      Also, talking about pay is a legally protected right. Rachel SHOULD be able to say LW discussed wages with her without fear of retaliation for either of them. The whole point of that protection is to empower employees to advocate for fair pay… why should that be hamstrung by having to tap dance around who told you?

      The manager’s bad behavior is specifically why people don’t want to discuss their salary. Putting any of this at all on Rachel is deflecting the blame to someone who doesn’t deserve it. If the manager weren’t behaving in a bad *and illegal* way, LW wouldn’t have any issues from Rachel naming her.

      1. L-squared*

        I mean, I just don’t see that 2 people starting the same week necessarily need to make the same amount of money in perpetuity. I don’t know how long they have both been at this company, but if OPs work is significantly better, it doesn’t matter that they started at the same time.

        You ask for pay on your own merits by saying “I made X when I started, since then I’ve performed my duties above and beyond and have taken on more responsibilities, so I think I deserve a raise”. The raise that someone else got doesn’t really matter.

        Now I’ll acknowledge that the manager should 100% be able to explain why they think Rachel does/doesn’t deserve that money, but start date alone isn’t enough to determine what the salary should be at some point in the future.

        I’m not saying RAchel and OP shouldn’t discuss it, but I don’t think Rachel needed to bring OPs salary into it.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          And when they say, “Hm, that’s fair, I think I could justify giving you a 5% raise” but you know your coworker who does the same work makes 25% more? Then what?

          There is much more strength in arguing that your organization pays someone else more for the same work you do than arguing about the more abstract question of what the general market value of your work is. That’s one of the reasons companies don’t want people discussing wages.

          1. L-squared*

            But the thing is, you don’t know that your coworker does the same work, or at least the same quality work. You know you have the same job. And if they are excellent at that job and you are fine, they deserve more money. That is my point, I think the manager handled this badly, but its not necessarily nefarious for OP to be making much more money. If you don’t think you are getting paid what you are worth, then look for a new job.

            And even still, I think if Rachel wanted to bring OPs salary into it, she should have gotten her permission, not used her kindness to bring her into a situation she didn’t want to be involved in

            1. Erin*

              “But the thing is, you don’t know that your coworker does the same work, or at least the same quality work.”

              And the manager might be assessing that fairly, correctly and reasonably… or might not. It’s not like we don’t have a history of some people being systemically under-rewarded relative to performance and others being systemically over-rewarded relative to performance.

              Transparency brings out those patterns that are otherwise far too easy to handwave away.

    2. Writer Claire*

      “Whether or not she deserves more money than she is making, really has nothing to do with what OP is making.”

      I would argue it does have a connection. OP and Rachel started the same week, they are on the same team (so in the same or related roles), and the OP herself thinks the difference in salaries isn’t fair. Now, maybe there are other factors, but even if that was the case, the manager should not have threatened the OP. We really need to normalize discussing salaries.

      1. L-squared*

        I agree that the manager should not have threatened OP. That was definitely a problem.

        That doesn’t take away from the way Rachel handeld it IMO

    3. Delphine*

      *But Rachel using this and calling out OPs salary specifically is why people don’t want to discuss their salary.*

      No, the manager’s response is why people don’t want to discuss their salary. Coworkers using each others’ salaries to negotiate fair compensation for themselves is a good thing.

      1. L-squared*

        Not without permission. I’d argue that if OP wanted to discuss her salary, that is fine, that doesn’t mean she wants her salary brought up in Rachel’s conversation with the manager.

    4. Critical Rolls*

      It’s absolutely relevant that a person of the same tenure doing the same work at your company is being paid meaningfully more than you. You then have a basis beyond an abstract market value to know that at your company specifically, your work may be undervalued. Rachel’s “merit” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

      Further, the manager sounds pretty manipulative. We have no idea what her conversation with Rachel was like, but I’d bet she was determined to pin down Rachel’s source of information, and willing to be very underhanded to do it. I will absolutely give Rachel the benefit of the doubt here.

    5. ShinyPenny*

      All current data about how Rachel handled this is coming from the manager– who is now clearly established as an unreliable narrator.
      I wouldn’t take the manager’s word on any of this.

  22. Observer*

    OP I want to strongly agree with all of the people who say that you should not trust ANYTHING your boss says. Also, that you should have a chat with Rachel. She didn’t break your trust, but you also did not do anything to make her feel like YOU disrespected her, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t think that either. Remember, your boss is fundamentally dishonest, so you can’t trust what he says.

    Please consider what you know about your company and HR in general. If it’s not safe for you to approach HR that’s a problem. If this kind or garbage is common in the organization, then you are working for an organization that you cannot trust to get the basics of ethical and legal behavior right.

    Which is to say, that you should be documenting your head off. And if this kind of sleaze is common you should start working on an exit plan. I don’t mean “just get a new job”. Even in a tight labor market that’s not so simple. But start working on a plan to get you out of there.

  23. Box of Kittens*

    How do you even ask a peer for their salary, even a ballpark? I started a new position a few months ago and it was a significant raise from my previous job, but I still think my salary is low for the market I’m in (even in a low COL area). I have a peer on my team who is entry/mid level like me and started around the same time. I’m dying to ask him what his salary is but don’t know how really. We are the most junior people on our team and the only ones in the company doing this type of work, so it doesn’t make as much sense to ask others.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Rather than asking him directly about his, you could mention that you want to do some general research into salaries for your type of work and ask if there are any websites or resources he would recommend? That gives him a clear opportunity to share his salary if he’s happy to do so, without putting him on the spot.

      And bonus, he might also have some good external resources to recommend, which would make your case stronger if you do pursue it with management.

    2. Frankie Bergstein*

      In my pre-government days (my salary is now public information, which is how I like it), folks just told me. Folks also just asked me my salary.

      I don’t know why – maybe it’s my city? My field? My gender? My race? That we were all twenty something’s figuring out our next moves?

    3. Purple Cat*

      It’s awkward as all get out, but rip off the band-aid and just ask. You can also offer up your salary first.
      At a quiet time, away from others, and in-person not electronically.
      “Hey Fergus, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but I’m worried my salary is low for this market. I’m making $xx. Would you mind sharing what you’re making?”

      1. Former Gifted Kid*

        I agree with this. A lot of people are socialized to feel weird talking about money, like it’s rude or trashy or something. I think the easiest way to get around this is 1)share your own info and 2) explain why you’re asking.

      2. anonymous73*

        I like this wording. It gives him your reasons (i.e. you’re not just being nosy) and also gives him an out if he doesn’t want to answer.

    4. Bex*

      So, I benefited greatly from this conversation when I started contracting at the place I eventually went to FTE for.

      I just straight up told my colleagues, during a slow afternoon (no one was stressed etc), “hey. I think my salary expectations are a bit screwy based on some past low paying jobs. I’m getting $X/hr right now; would you be willing to let me know if you’re around there?”

      One of my colleagues just responded he was making more, but he’d been there for years. The other, who had roughly a year of seniority, laid out his salary history. “When I was contracting j started at X, when I went FTE I went to Y, and my bonus last year was in the Z range.”

      Bless his heart. He’s still one of my besties and most trusted colleagues. And with his willingness to share salary and benefits info, I was able to negotiate well when I went FTE, and see my life drastically approve.

      Now, during the summer, interns will occasionally come by on a Friday afternoon and we will take the time to let them know about their rights – overtime laws in our state, right to discuss wages, etc. I’d like to think we’re helping the next group come up ok.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Workers’ rights: yeah I remember reading up on the French labour laws as a union representative back in the day. I learned it all by dint of reading the labour code, laboriously.
        I’m now wondering why it’s not taught in school. I mean, it’s important for everyone. For the workers, obviously, but also their bosses, they need to know whether what they are doing is legal and sometimes they honestly don’t know.
        And for independent workers, well, you know what you’re missing out on, which means that you can count all the benefits to salaried work, rather than just the hourly rate, and bill accordingly to reflect that your client is not paying for your paid leave, healthcare, retirement etc. on top of your hourly rate

  24. anonymous73*

    Yes to everything Alison said. As a side note, you mention you feel the trust is broken between you and Rachel and I hope reading Alison’s device has changed your mind on that. Yes you were in the right telling Rachel about your salary and Rachel was also in her right to take it to manager to explain why she feels she deserves a raise. Now if she were telling all of your co-workers how much you make that would be broken trust, because you should be the only one discussing your salary with other co-workers and it’s not her business to spread that information. But she did nothing wrong here, and neither did you. Your manager is the problem and why salary discrepancies exist.

  25. June*

    I feel for you. You’ve done nothing wrong. As an aside, consider every word you say to a coworker as though they were public. Work friends are very situational. If Boss brings it up again, you can say your conversation was protected by law and you are moving on from the topic. It’s not for you to manage Company’s feelings or Rachel’s feelings.

    1. Fran Fine*

      As an aside, consider every word you say to a coworker as though they were public. Work friends are very situational.


  26. JustaTech*

    Hi LW, I had very nearly the exact same set of conversations, except I was the “Rachel” and my LW was a peer who was quitting. The company (senior managers and HR) couldn’t punish her so they tried to tell me that I couldn’t talk about salary, and when I pushed back about what the laws says (thanks AAM!) I got a speech about how talking about salary was “inappropriate” and “unprofessional”. I also got the run around on what the salary range was for my new position (again, until I reminded HR of the law in our state).

    I don’t know if anyone bothered to talk to the person who told me her salary (since she was leaving) but it was very frustrating and unpleasant (but not from my direct boss, or even his boss, just HR). And while I got a promotion, my raise still did not bring me in line with my former coworker’s salary.
    (Side note, I don’t and didn’t resent my coworker about her salary; I knew I was underpaid as a consequence of not negotiating when I started, I just didn’t realize I was *that* underpaid.)

    Moral of the story? Management is 100% giving you the run around about salary because they do want to keep everyone’s salary down to save money. And now you know things about how your company and your manager operate that may be useful in the future.

    It sucks and I’m sorry, and I’m sorry to Rachel too.

  27. Michelle C.*

    When I was young, about 20/21 years old (now 38), I was working at a large national clothing retailer and was written up for making a comment out loud around co-workers about my paycheck on the day I picked it up. I said that the check was, “better than nothing”, as a joke. It literally was a check for less than $100 because this was just a job I worked for extra $ and the discount. I came in next day and not on next week’s schedule. They let me work the shift while I questioned why I wasn’t on the schedule. They took me in at the end of my shift and sat me down and told me I violated their policy regarding pay, telling me that it’s against policy to discuss wages and I should be fired. They stated that they hire at different times of the year for different rates and that is why we aren’t to discuss wages. They decided to keep me but it was a final warning and gave me a few shifts on next week’s schedule. I never came back in or called after that shift. I felt completely humiliated and small. I wish I had known this was completely illegal!!

    1. ecnaseener*

      Lying/manipulating is not the same as gaslighting. Gaslighting would entail trying to convince LW that the conversation was different than what she remembers, or that the law she’s referencing doesn’t exist, etc – things she personally witnessed. This boss is making stuff up about a conversation LW *didn’t* witness.

  28. Free Meerkats*

    It’s well past time for the NLRB to do a rule that makes all employment remuneration transparent.

    1. JustaTech*

      At Big State U where I had my first professional job this was the case (though the list wasn’t searchable, it was just flat text). It was eye opening to find how very much my 2X boss made, how much less my direct boss made, and the pittance that our post-doc was getting.

  29. Mornington Cresent*

    In my previous job, my boss told me on five (5) different occasions that I was being paid too much for the work I did and what I knew, and that I wasn’t worth as much as that! This is one reason among many that this is a previous job!

    I went back to my peer and asked her if she knew she was being paid less than me, and that she deserved pay parity with me since our roles were so similar.
    I don’t know if she ever got it, but I made a point of telling her that if our toxic boss had really cared about us, she would’ve advocated for her to get a pay rise, rather than try to undermine me by telling me I earnt too much. She was always friendly with toxic boss, so she didn’t say much, but I’m sure it got her thinking at least.

  30. Sparkles McFadden*

    First LW, please research the “moving to exempt” thing because bosses do this in situations where employees should NOT be exempt in order to cheat the employee out of money. I’ve been in jobs where we all had the same responsibilities but half of the people were “managers” so the company could stop paying these people OT and night differential.

    Weirdness around compensation persists because of the company has management exert pressure like this and because people buy into the idea that they won’t get paid as much if their salary is public. The logic is “I’ll get a larger salary than everyone only if it’s a secret. If everyone knows, they’ll have to be paid the same so I’ll get less.” Nonsensical pressure I’ve been subjected to over the years:

    – Asking for a higher salary in an all male department would harm other women because women wouldn’t be hired anymore as they could just hire a man for the higher salary.

    – Negotiating for a raise was harmful to other women because it just proves that women are too much trouble to have around.

    – One boss said salaries can’t be made public because the she decided on compensation based on people’s personal situations so knowing someone’s salary is a breech of privacy. She added that me getting a raise was like “taking food away from your coworker’s children.”

    – One boss actually tried to fire me using the same language as LW’s boss around “privacy” discussing compensation. Fortunately, I escalated to her boss and he did a compensation review. The result was that three of us (one woman, two men of color) got large salary adjustments. Grandboss had to stop Boss from retaliating against me and he sent Boss to a management class on labor law. (There are some great bosses out there.)

    TL;DR You are right, LW. Your boss is wrong.

  31. Llellayena*

    Manager: You made Rachel feel bad by discussing your salary.
    You: Oh, that was never my intention. I’ll go talk to her right now and tell her what you just told me so I can clarify and apologize.
    Manager: -Turns white-

    1. Goldenrod*

      Exactly!! Never believe what a questionable manager tells you about what other people think or what they are (allegedly) saying about you.

      I once had a manager tell me that 2 of my peers complained about me. I was surprised because I had strong relationships with both of them. I directly asked both of them – they both not only denied it but expressed some opinions about the manager that weren’t exactly flattering. I went back to the manager, directly confronted her with what I had learned (politely and professionally but VERY directly)…and she actually emailed me a written apology.

  32. Elle*

    I would also be prepared for the possibility that, when Rachel went to manager, manager talked her into the idea that she was offended by you in some way. I have had this happen- a coworker realized they were making less than they should be, went to managment, and somehow came away with a grudge against me. It’s sad but I guess some people are very, very good at manipulating?

    1. ecnaseener*

      Agreed – “Wow, I can’t believe LW would say that to you! No wonder you’re upset, that’s so rude to brag about her salary. I’ll talk to her about it.” (Probably took a little longer than that, but I can see that being the gist.)

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Sadly, this is a real possibility. “You can’t be paid more because I gave it all to her.”

  33. ecnaseener*

    For my own understanding, it’s technically legal for a manager to *discourage* salary conversations, right? This page https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/rights-we-protect/your-rights/your-rights-to-discuss-wages says it’s illegal to prohibit these discussions and illegal to retaliate, interrogate, or threaten, but I don’t see anything stopping the manager from saying crap about discretion or making people feel bad. (I know the manager in this letter got into “threatening” territory, but if not for that part would it be technically legal?)

  34. Caroline Bowman*

    100% document everything that was said, and ideally, if possible email it to your manager as an agreed record of your conversation.

    Then, at an opportune time, chat with Rachel. Start by saying that you really did not intend to give the impression that you think your job somehow makes you ”better” and that you hope the misunderstanding can be straightened out. It is extremely likely that she will say, ”wait… what?” and then you can compare notes.

    Depending on the outcome of those two things, speak to whoever is most suitable in your organisation and ask, flat out, if they are for real. I’m kidding! Don’t do that, but do not stop discussing your own personal things with whoever you choose, whenever you choose.

  35. Cremedelagremlin*

    Reminds me of the boss I had once who pulled me into his office and accused me of being “out to get” him. I was…surprised to say the least. I asked what gave him that impression and he said it was his “spidey senses tingling”.

    I later realized it was most likely because I had encouraged a colleague to ask him about a pay period situation (he changed our pay dates without informing us this would happen, pushing everything back by a week, and we weren’t paid enough to not be living paycheque to paycheque so it wasn’t a good situation).

    I did this on the company instant messaging system, which he monitored, so I guess he didn’t like me encouraging his confused and disgruntled (new to the workforce) employees to ask him what was happening with their paycheque.

    People who have to rule by withholding information shouldn’t be in positions of power.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “People who have to rule by withholding information shouldn’t be in positions of power.”
      x 1000

      I also love this part of Alison’s answer:
      “She’s trying to dress it up as “discretion and confidentiality” but that’s like objecting to you reporting discrimination because of “manners and respect.””

      Your manager is just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. She is dishonest and has no integrity.

  36. Important Moi*

    Thank you for explaining the con. I hope Alison is considered enough of an authority that no one pushes back.

  37. olddog*

    Alison’s response is on target. Employers and institutions keep employees underpaid and divided with these tactics. It is only when we talk about our compensation and join with each other thy we stand a fighting chance.

  38. Anonymous Koala*

    I would also take this whole incident as a GIANT red flag, OP. The job market is good right now, and you’re clearly highly valued (otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten the extra work and been made exempt – they would have told you to work faster). If your manager is implying that the perfectly legal and reasonable conversation you had with Rachel is threatening your promotional potential, I would jump ship and not feel the slightest bit of guilt.

  39. irene adler*

    Whenever anyone provides multiple, disparate reasons about something, that’s a big indicator that they are not stating the true reason for their issue. IOW, manipulation tactic at work here. Watch out!

    I had a boss who -regularly – said things to me like “I’m all for [idea], but John in manufacturing is against it. In fact, he’s upset over it. I talked with him about it yesterday. So no, to [idea].” to explain to me why something was not going to get done. I fell for it a number of times-until- I actually asked John in manufacturing myself. Learned that he was (1) unaware of [idea] (2) never talked with my boss about the [idea] (3) liked the [idea].

    Boss continued to lie like this even when my usual next sentence to him was “Will, I’ll have to talk with John in manufacturing myself to find out what his thoughts are.”

    My takeaway: check with the person yourself about their stance on something. Don’t believe hearsay.
    (I recognize that the OP’s situation might be awkward because it might reveal the Rachel cited the salary info provided by OP. Not suggesting anything that might increase the awkwardness.)

    1. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      But. Since there’s nothing wrong with sharing that info, there should be nothing awkward between Rachel and OP.

  40. Gnome*

    Funny, I was just thinking about my first job – high school retail – and the day the owner’s mom (who did payroll) told me it was inappropriate to talk to other workers about pay. I’d been there a year and they’d hired a new guy, also high school/first job, and worried he was making more than me since he’s a guy, i asked. He was making minimum wage and I was slightly higher. I guess he took that as a reason to ask for more. The lady told me in a paerntal-osh voice, so I had assumed I’d broken some social norm.

    This was over 20 years ago, but I share so OP knows this is A Thing that some do.

    The results of my sharing was that New Guy quit and they had to hire again. It would have been a lot better if they had said “Gnome has a year of experience and can do X and Y that you haven’t learned yet, which is why they earn more. When you can also do X and Y, you will earn more too.”. Apparently, that doesn’t occur to some. There MIGHT be legitimate reasons you are Rachel earn different incomes. It’s on the employer to explain that.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Surely these reasons would have been cited when Rachel asked for a pay rise?

  41. my 8th name*

    I’m not sure I get the LW’s reaction to Rachel. The point of sharing your salary with your coworkers is (1) so that there is transparency in pay and (2) so staff can advocate for their own pay and others. Rachel participated the second part. Why share your salary if you didn’t want your coworkers to compare and advocate for themselves? I just feel like this is an reasonable and predictable thing Rachel did.

    Your manager is manipulative and that’s the real issue to focus on.

  42. Nanani*

    You might also want to chat with an employment lawyer in addition to or instead of HR.
    You don’t need to be preparing a lawsuit to have an informative chat with an actual expert who can arm with you the specific names of regulations and laws that apply to your region.

  43. Tech writer by day*

    My employer is losing people at a staggering rate. When anyone gives notice, their manager invariably tells them not to reveal their new salary at their new job. Is this discussion also protected under the law, or is it just your current salary? (The managers would probably say they “asked” rather than “told” of course.)

    1. Observer*

      Almost certainly illegal. But also extraordinarily stupid. I mean, how could they enforce that? Fire them?

    1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      Filled it out the other day, and was happy to do it. Love this, and hope it becomes an annual tradition!

  44. katkat*

    I just realized that in the last three jobs I’ve had, my new coworkers have asked my salary during the first couple of weeks… First time it was aqward and I was quite hesitant, but they bluntly shared theirs, which matched mine, so I shared too. Later I kind of just amswered when asked. (im in a field where salaries in my country are pretty regulated anyway)

    It is still weird and I dont think you should be so straightforward with new people, since it’s difficult to evaluate their motivs. BUT it has made me discuss salary with coworkers I trust and it has been benefitting both parties.

    1. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      I’m confused about your reference to motives. What nefarious motives could there be?

  45. voyager1*

    Manager is blaming you because you made her have an uncomfortable convo with Rachel. Not every manager is a advocate for their employees. Your manager has shown you the kind person they are. I would expect to be retaliated against if I were you. They will dress it up in something like reorganizing or some such.

    You need to bail as soon as you can.

  46. Sam, Wise and Well*

    So I’m not sure this would actually be the most productive way to proceed, heh, but upon having the entire meeting with the manager being framed as a concern about confidentiality, I would be tempted to *innocently* ask for more clarification.

    “Confidentiality? Could you clarify whose confidentiality are you concerned that I violated? Obviously I did not inform Rachel of her own salary, or discuss it with anyone else. Are you concerned that I violated my own confidentiality by sharing my salary? *Inquisitive Look*

  47. Skytext*

    Whoa, whoa, whoa, giant red flag! Did no one else catch that part about being moved to exempt because OP was getting too much overtime? There are certain legal requirements that must be met, such as salary threshold, having management responsibilities, etc., to be “exempt” from overtime pay (even if you are salary). OP, check the Dept of Labor website and see if you actually should be classified as exempt. If not, you might consider filing a complaint with the DOL, alleging overtime wage theft, and violation of your right to discuss salary, and intimidation and retaliation because you did that.

  48. Sparklecat*

    Does this law extend to contract workers? I am a 1099 worker and I once had to sign a contract with a nonprofit organization that stipulated that I was not allowed to discuss my fee with other contractors. I found this to be extremely sketchy, but is it illegal?

  49. anonforthis*

    Based on my previous experiences, your manager is most likely misrepresenting Rachel’s “feelings” to guilt trip and manipulate you.

  50. She is Me*

    I saw an awesome meme on Twitter last year, it’s about unions but it still feels relevant here:

    “Unions are like condoms — if someone is trying to persuade you that you don’t need one, you REALLY really need one.”

    Insert salary discussion for union etc.

Comments are closed.