Rounding it up
It’s illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries and there are laws in place to protect this right.
Women still earn 23 cents less than men in similar job functions; parity is one of the key reasons in favor of discussing salary at work.
Discussing salary can lead to jealousy, a poor work environment, and difficulty obtaining pay increases – so think carefully about your goals.
You’re working away at a job you love. You’ve been with ABC Corp. for the past ten years and have been well-compensated from the get-go. You’re happy and it seems your coworkers are as well. New management takes over, however, after the company is sold. You and your colleagues are asked to “interview” for your roles again so that the new owners can get a better idea of what each person does and, more importantly, how much they’re paid to do it.
Over lunch one day, your colleague says, “hey there, Dan. How much do you make? That way we know what we’re talking about in these interviews.” Whoa, you think to yourself. Is this legal? A good idea? Do I want my coworkers to know how much I make? More interestingly, do I want to know how much they make? What if it’s way less or way more? Awkward.
Can you discuss your salary with your coworkers?
You absolutely, 100% can discuss your salary with your coworkers. The taboo we have around discussing one’s salary is something labour unions and workers’ rights organizations are actively campaigning against. Keeping employees in the dark about each other's compensation is, in every sense, a net positive for the company. It allows them to keep pay lower than they would if everyone’s salary was out in the open. Employers, for example, may pay one worker less than another for any number of reasons. That employer can keep that arrangement going without ever having to worry and the only ones suffering are the employees.
In fact, it is very much against the law to limit employees talking with one another about their salaries. In 2018, the province of Ontario introduced new legislation that banned employers from asking compensation questions as part of interviews as well. This is a common tactic to lowball new employees. By asking what the workers current compensation is, the employer can offer enough to get the employee in the door, but not the full value they’ve pegged for the position. The bill, known as the Pay Transparency Act, was specifically targeted at closing the gap between male and female workers. A study by ADP Canada conducted in 2018 found that women earned 23 cents less than their male counterparts for the same work.
So legally, you have every right to discuss your salary with your coworkers. But should you?
A few reasons to share salary information
It’s true. Our salary has become so closely tied with our identity that discussing it seems akin to discussing religion, politics, or sex at a family dinner; just best to avoid them all. But there can be some clear benefits to discussing your salary.
If you know that you’re doing the same amount of work as some of your colleagues, it can be helpful to understand what they make and vice versa. This will ensure an even playing field for everyone at your company. It’s important to remember, however, that there are other factors that go into compensation, so think carefully before jumping to conclusions about pay.
Your Own Pay
Let’s be realistic: you’re concerned about what your coworkers make, perhaps, but you’re more concerned with what you’re bringing home each month. This is a natural feeling and not something to be cast aside as selfish. You need to provide for your family and pay the bills. Discussing salary with your coworkers could reveal that you’re getting shortchanged.
If you work in an environment that may benefit from a union, discussing your salary with coworkers will help you form a union to advocate for your rights at work. This can be an extensive process that requires working with an established Union organization, like the UFCW, gathering enough signatures from coworkers to garner support, and selecting leaders. Understanding the landscape of salary and benefits among your coworkers, however, is the first step.
Is it really a good idea, though?
There are two sides to every story and discussing your salary with coworkers is no different. There are almost certainly some drawbacks to chatting dollars and cents with folks around the water cooler.
As with all things, there is nuance when it comes to pay and compensation. It is not necessarily possible to get the full picture of a coworker’s compensation without looking at the totality of their employment, which isn’t always possible in a casual conversation about salary. It’s exceedingly rare that two workers do the exact same thing so comparing pay may not always make sense. You might learn that a coworker makes more than you do but is also doing some work for a different department. Your coworker may learn that you make less than she does, but she may fail to realize that you are able to leave work early several days a week to pick up your kids.
Your employer is, in many ways, permitted to pay you and your coworkers what they’d like. They have to follow the law when doing so, like ensuring they pay women an equal amount as a man with a similar role, but in essence, they can pay what they deem to be compensatory for the work performed. Discussing salary in this environment can just be flat-out demoralizing. If you learn that a coworker is making a ton more than you, it can be difficult to continue to work with that person.
Raises are Harder
If you’re due for a raise and walk into your performance review demanding a certain pay increase based upon the pay of your colleagues, you can hurt your chances of actually getting that amount. Professionalism is key here and sometimes inside knowledge can make that more difficult. Instead, you might want to research compensation rates for similar roles outside your department and use that data to form the basis of your argument for a raise.
So should I discuss my salary with coworkers?
This is up to you. Think about what you’re actually trying to accomplish by doing so. Are you trying to work for pay parity at your company? Perhaps it’s a good idea to discuss salary. Just curious what others are making so you know how to approach your supervisor at bonus time? It may not be the best motivation. In some ways, you’re better off doing plenty of research to determine what the market dictates your skills are worth as opposed to using your coworkers to determine what you should be paid at your company. Despite some of the stigma being removed over the past several years, it still is a bit uncomfortable talking with coworkers about salary. Doing so is a personal decision and one not to be taken lightly.
Dan is a runner and writer living in the Washington, D.C. area, where he currently works for a financial services trade association as the Communications Director.