To many the idea of talking to your co-workers about how much money you’re making is horrifying. It feels icky and inappropriate. In some workplaces it is actively discouraged. But like or not, you should be asking your co-workers what they make.
Think about it for a minute. Who benefits from employees keeping hush-hush about their pay? Why would workplaces try and encourage the secrecy? What would actually happen if people knew what their co-workers were taking home each month?
Done thinking? OK good, here the answers.
Who benefits from employees keeping hush-hush about their pay? : Management, bosses, and the owners of the company. Everyone but the employees themselves. For reasons that will become clear in the next answer.
Why would workplaces try and encourage the secrecy? : So they can screw you over. If a company is engaging in pay discrimination the smartest thing to do is make sure everyone’s pay is a secret. The women in your office can’t sue you if they never find out they’re paid 20 percent less than the men. If a company isn’t doing to great and drops the pay for new employees to save a buck, they might spend their whole time at the company thinking their pay is normal. Secrecy about pay only works against employees.
What would actually happen if people knew what their co-workers were taking home each month? : Employees would have the information they need to demand equal and fair pay. Bosses like to say it will cause conflict and resentment, they just don’t mention that it’s justified resentment aimed at them.
Some people are under the impression that discussing pay in the workplace is illegal. When in fact (for the most part) the opposite is true. Federal law means that it is illegal for employers to prevent you from discussing salaries with your co-workers.
A law known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the right to collectively bargain. This includes union activity as well as concerted activity. Concerted activity is “when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment.” This includes two or more employees seeking better pay.
Unfortunately there are some exceptions to this protection. You may not be protected by NLRA if you are…
- Employed by the federal, state or local government
- Employed my a family member
- An independent contractor
- Working in agriculture
- A domestic worker operating in a home
- A Supervisor
- Working for a company that operates under the Railway Labor Act
- Working for someone who does not meet the NRLA specifications of an employer
The law exists explicitly because secrecy allows for pay discrimination. So get over the discomfort and awkwardness, know your rights, and get talking about your salary.