HR Was Reckless with My Salary Information

by Evil HR Lady on May 17, 2017

HR sent me a letter of congratulations for my promotion along with my new salary and job description in an intra-office envelope.  The kind that is “closed” by a flimsy little string and re-used again and again.

Are you getting the picture? Intraoffice.  Addressed to me.  That’s it.  The letter was not in a sealed envelope nor was it marked “personal and confidential”.  In short, ANYBODY could open it, read it, place back in the envelope and placed on my desk. No one would be the wiser.

I was out of the office for one week on vacation when this was sent.  I’m absolutely certain this was read by my colleagues. It is customary for us to read intra-office mail when someone is out just to see if there is something of import that needs to be handled.

When I got back from vacation and saw the flimsy envelope on my desk, I was horrified!!!  I called up the HR person to ask why on earth would MY PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL information not be in a SEALED envelope?!!

The snooty little dumb [squidlip] copped an attitude and said in her Dept no one reads each other’s mail.  She did not see anything wrong with what she did.   I told her I didn’t care what happened in her Dept because my information was handled in a reckless fashion and I was certain that my colleagues now know my salary thanks to her unprofessionalism.

Do I have any legal recourse?
Shouldn’t HR be held accountable?  This was not a mistake.  She made a conscious decision to just throw my personal salary info in an intra-office envelope for anyone to read.

First, take a deep breath. Now eat some ice cream.  Now take another deep breath. Feeling better? If not, have more ice cream, and possibly an entire bag (large) of Peanut Butter M&Ms. (Food is my go to for stressful situations, YMMV.)

Okay, first things first. Congratulations on the promotion and salary increase! That’s awesome! Good for you!

Now, forgive the HR person and let this go because this is not a big deal. Unless you are some sort of senior executive with an admin that routinely opens your mail, the HR person had no reason to believe someone else would open inter-office mail addressed to you. And even if you were a senior executive with an admin that routinely opens your mail, putting it in a sealed envelope and marking it “confidential” probably wouldn’t have prevented the admin from opening it unless you gave him specific instructions not to. Most executives, in my experience, expect their administrative assistants to handle confidential things all the time.

You have no idea if anyone did open it unless they tell you that they did. Which they didn’t. So assume they didn’t. But what if they did? And now someone else in your office knows your salary? Then what?

Then they know your salary. Presumably they know you got a promotion, and presumably, they know a raise comes with that. Unless you know that your salary is unfair because the CEO is your dad or something, your exact salary isn’t going to come as a shock to anyone. You were X before, and so are three other people in your department, so now that you’re a Senior X, everyone is going to assume you’re making 5 percent or so more than the X people. It’s not a big deal.

Frankly, if I ran the world, I’d have everyone’s salaries posted on the company intranet. It makes it difficult to discriminate on the basis of race/gender/whatever when information is public.

But even if I was a huge proponent of maintaining management power by keeping people in the dark about salaries, this would still not be a big deal. Just ask HR to use a sealed envelope in the future, or join the 21st century and send you information via email. If you raise a ruckus on this, you’re likely to get a big crazy mark next to your virtual file. This will have an effect on your career at this company forever more. So, let it go.

There’s also no legal recourse because unless the letter had health information or your social security number on it, there’s no law protecting it. Your company can legally put your salary on a billboard if they’d like. They don’t, and they won’t, so don’t worry about that.

And once again, congrats on the promotion.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

mer May 17, 2017 at 12:45 pm

I agree on the “No big deal unless SSN or other protected info”. Salary is always be the employee and the employer (except for unions). If you feel you are getting paid a fair wage for the work you’re doing who cares if someone else is making more (or less) for doing more (or less). They negotiated a different deal than you did. Yes it sucks if you find out the idiot in the next cube makes a lot more than you for doing a lot less, but really, before you found that out, you were satisfied with your salary.

Now if a company has a policy of keeping a lid on individual salaries (as in Jane makes $X, Jack makes $Y) and someone hacks into or “runs across” the master list, that’s a different violation.

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Professor Ronny May 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm

I’m a State employee. My title and salary are posted publicly on a State website along with everyone else at the university where I teach. No one cares.

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Heatherskib May 17, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Agreed! I don’t always agree with EHRL, but this was spot on. If you aren;t used to your income being public knowledge, I can see it being shocking at first. But it’s really no big deal unless it had things like your SSN # on it.

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Evil HR Lady May 17, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Even *I* don’t always agree with myself! 🙂

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Courtney K May 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm

I work in the public sector, so salary is public knowledge.

But I LOVE your response Evil HR Lady! Just. Perfection!

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grannybunny May 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm

I work in the public sector, so my salary is widely-accessible on public databases. Generally, salary secrecy benefits the employer, not the employees. That’s why the National Labor Relations Board opposes employer rules prohibiting employees from discussing their compensation with each other. Secrecy was how Lillie Ledbetter’s employer got away with decades of paying her less than her male peers and subordinates. If you’re making substantially more — or less — than comparable employees, disclosure of that fact can lead to some awkward situations. However, long-term, it militates against some of the most egregious compensation inequities.

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Evil HR Lady May 17, 2017 at 10:16 pm

Yes, this. Salary secrecy does benefit the employer. That’s why they continue to foster a culture of secrecy around it.

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Jill May 17, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Another government employee with a publicly posted salary here. If anything, knowing what everyone else in my organization makes is insightful. It keeps salaries competitive and fair. It’s also revealed some scandals and discriminatory decision and empowered those adversely affected to take action.

So, yea, let it go!! If you’re worth your pay, you have nothing to hide.

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Maria Rose May 17, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The only reason, I can see someone getting upset about this , would be if that salary increase was more than normal amount, for that specific job.
Like most of the comments noted, most jobs salary are public knowledge within a certain money amount.
I did like the comments about taking a deep breath and have some ice cream. I would skip the peanut butter M&M’s

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Evil HR Lady May 17, 2017 at 10:18 pm

You can give me all your peanut butter M&Ms.

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Mr Cynical May 17, 2017 at 11:39 pm

I’m getting pretty blase about salary. Ought to just be more like Norway where tax returns are public record, so “there is more honesty about salaries… Job adverts are much more likely to specify the salary on offer, rather than coyly using phrases such as ‘competitive salary package’.”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2016/apr/11/when-it-comes-to-tax-transparency-norway-leads-the-field

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Stephanie May 17, 2017 at 11:44 pm

In one of my HR jobs, I often sent information of a similar nature in interoffice envelopes to get the appropriate signatures for the file. In five years, I never had a single problem for all of the reasons Suzanne explained.

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Linda May 18, 2017 at 5:37 pm

I just appreciate the way EHRL talks people off the ceiling and I hope the writer takes her advice, because it’s dead on. I work in HR and anyone in my organization that advances to the next step has to prove he/she can handle serious issues with a problem solving approach. if someone called my office that upset and ready to sue over something like this, I would have to conclude that this person simply did not have the disposition it would take to advance anywhere where they would have to handle a real problem.

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Kyle May 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm

You always have good in practical advice and stories. Thank you for your bluntness and reality checks.

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Anon 10 May 25, 2017 at 8:03 pm

I disagree a bit on this. Personally I would not have had such a cow for all the reasons cited. However, the author is entitled to an opinion on how her personal info is shared and she is entitled to have that opinion received respectfully and honored. What I would be upset about if I were the writer is that the HR department didn’t say “I hear your concern and while we have no history of people opening each others’ mail, it’s a good reminder that we should treat personal data properly and I will seal these envelopes in the future”. BTW, I have been in HR for a career and I would never leave something like that unsealed on somebody’s chair.

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Allison May 29, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Yes this. It is the letter-writer’s responsibility to manage her own reaction to this happening – but she also has the right to push for changes that would make her more comfortable, and while HR may not owe her an apology it is unreasonable that they just refuse to examine the situation for how they could prevent upset employees in the future.

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