The case for pay transparency is gaining traction. Next month, the New York City Pay Transparency Law, which mandates that companies disclose salary ranges for all job postings, is set to take effect. Although pay transparency is enforced in some places (see state laws in California and Colorado), disclosing how much money you make still feels taboo in most contexts. A survey by Salary.com earlier this year found that only one in four employees feel that their employers are transparent about pay. At the same time, 45% of those surveyed said they do not personally feel comfortable discussing their salary with others.
When is sharing your salary a smart move toward more equitable pay, and when should you exercise discretion? Here’s what to know about the case for pay transparency, and when you should and should not have a salary conversation with your coworkers.
First off, you’re allowed to share salary information
If you’re worried about punishment or retaliation for discussing your salary with coworkers, know that sharing salary information is protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Still, even though employers cannot legally punish workers for discussing wages with colleagues, the topic still feels taboo on the interpersonal level.
Ideally, pay transparency would be provided by companies rather than left up to individual workers. Tanya Jenson, co-founder of compensation management platform beqom, writes in Forbes that employers have a responsibility to “provide transparency” and “help employees understand the full scope of their compensation.” Assuming your employer isn’t taking the initiative here, you’re well within your rights to start the conversation with your coworkers yourself.
Reasons to share your salary
The central case for pay transparency is all about returning power to the workers and making pay more equitable for all of you—especially those workers who have been unfairly compensated historically.
While pay transparency can help ensure that you and your coworkers are being fairly compensated in the big picture, personally disclosing such information is easier said than done. “Sharing salary information with coworkers could give you more transparency on pay at your organization,” Toni Frana, career services manager at FlexJobs and Remote.co., tells Lifehacker. But it’s not always cut and dried. Frana points out that “even if you know the dollar figure, you likely won’t know all the context that went into making that decision.”
Sharing your salary information with coworkers is not unheard of by any means, but it’s not yet the norm. Frana shared the findings of one of FlexJobs’ recent surveys, telling us that 42% of respondents had discussed their salary with a colleague, while 58% had not. If your employer doesn’t openly disclose salary information, here are some of the reasons why you might want to be the one to start that conversation with your coworkers.
- Understand your worth. You can negotiate fairer wages for yourself if you know what your colleagues are making for the same work. And if you discover that no one on your team is making competitive pay in your industry, you can make an informed decision about taking collective action or leaving the company entirely.
- Help colleagues know their worth. If you suspect your employer is taking advantage of one of your coworkers, sharing your own salary information can help them advocate for fairer pay.
When salaries are kept secret, your employer holds all the bargaining chips against you and your coworkers. Pay transparency is a way to gain some power back, both as an individual and as a collective unit.
When not to share your salary
Although pay transparency will help more workers in the long run, there are nevertheless contexts where you should still use discretion. As Frana pointed out, you could be missing sensitive information that goes into someone’s salary number, e.g. differences in the quality of experience brought to the table during the hiring process.
Maybe you’re the type to get fired up upon finding out that you make less than one of your colleagues. If you’re passionate about pay transparency, some awkwardness won’t be enough to hold you back. This won’t be true for everyone.
Keep in mind that other people in your shoes could feel slighted or demoralized as a result of sharing salaries—especially if the pay inequity is intertwined with race, gender, background, and so on. Make sure everyone is on board with the salary conversation before you risk demoralizing a coworker to the point of leaving the job entirely.
Be tactful about salary disclosure
Before you dive into sharing numbers, be strategic about having a larger discussion first. Open the doors to chatting with your coworkers about why you think pay transparency is something you all should strive toward. Then, you can tactfully build to salary disclosure. Otherwise, you risk creating tension instead of building solidarity.