You've probably wondered at some point if you're getting paid what you deserve. You've likely also thought about how your pay compares to your teammates who are doing the same kind of work. And you may be tempted to just compare numbers. At many companies, there is not only a hush-hush culture around discussing your pay, it may even be a rule, whether communicated verbally or written down in employee rules and regulations.
It’s long been considered taboo to discuss how much you’re making with your co-workers. But the truth is, you are allowed to talk about your salary with co-workers, by law.
The National Labor Relations Act has been in place for nearly 90 years. This law dispels salary confidentiality “rules” at most companies and for most employees, and says that discussion of pay is allowed.
Why employers don’t want you discussing wages at work
It’s pretty simple: if you found out that a co-worker doing the same job as you was making more money, you’d be understandably upset, right? Employers may not write a specific rule, but may say things like, “Discussing wages ‘creates tension.” What they’re referring to is the tension that people making less than their co-workers would feel if they found out their pay wasn’t the same.
Keeping pay a secret could allow employers to pay unevenly, saving the company money but keeping people in a culture of secrecy and inequity. Unfortunately for employees, not knowing leaves them without increases in pay that would otherwise be equitable and fair.
A study by four economists supports that prediction. To study the relationship between pay transparency, turnover, and workplace satisfaction, they selected a group of employees in the University of California system and showed them a website that lists the salaries of all UC employees. They found that employees who were paid above the median were unaffected by using the website, while those who were paid lower than the median became less satisfied with their work and more likely to start job hunting. This result shows why employers have an incentive to keep pay under wraps if they’re going to try to pay some less than the median.
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The wrong side of the law
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) makes the law clear: You are allowed to discuss your pay, without fear of retaliation or retribution by your employer for doing so.
It can be difficult to challenge a culture or rule at work. The pressure to conform can be intense, and you don’t want to do anything that will get you into trouble. But when it comes to discussing wages, you may want to consider going against the grain.
Per the NLRB, pay secrecy policies may violate the law. If your boss, manager, supervisor, employee handbook, or any other person or entity at work tells you it is illegal to talk about wages, they may be wrong. Companies that direct you not to talk about your pay with your coworkers may very well be on the wrong side of the law.
If you’re one of the many to whom this law applies, it is also unlawful for your employer to take retaliatory action against you for having such conversations. Additionally, it would be illegal for your employer to have a work rule, policy, or hiring agreement that prohibits you from discussing your wages with others, or that requires you to get the employer’s permission to have such discussions. If your employer does any of these things, find out if the NLRA applies to your employer and work so you can assert the rights that are there to help you advocate for your fair pay.
Companies with wage transparency
Only about 20% of companies practice open salary transparency. But, as more and more states require employers to at minimum post the pay ranges for open positions, this trend is growing.
Companies like Glassdoor, which practice salary transparency, believe in ensuring employees are being paid fairly. What would it look like if the same was happening in your company?
If you’re interested in working for a company that practices salary transparency, here are a few options:
- Buffer. This social media company has had complete salary transparency since 2013.
- Gitlab, a software company, provides a 100% remote environment and uses a compensation calculator for candidates so they can see what the salary range is for their position.
- National grocer Whole Foods also practices salary transparency.
- Glassdoor. Salary transparency is one of our core tenets at Glassdoor. Pay transparency is one of the most appreciated aspects by Glassdoor job seekers and employees.
Why you should talk about wages
Pay secrecy furthers the wage gap and opportunities for discrimination, including sustaining the gender pay gap and keeping wages lower for people of color. Imagine how much positive change you could create within your organization if you pulled back the covers and started speaking honestly about your compensation. Whether you are getting paid more or less than your co-workers, you’d be helping to even the playing field and increase equity across the board.
It’s also good for the company: understanding whether or not workers are getting paid what they feel they are worth is one of the key drivers of job satisfaction and retention.
If you’re considering discussing your pay with a coworker to see if you are being paid the same thing, be aware of the legal rights you may have to discuss your pay, and ask yourself a simple question: do you want to be paid for your worth? Do you want that for others as well?