A few weeks ago during a department meeting, the general manager put all of our salaries in an overhead screen projection and exposed all of us to each other. The salary info included someone who was recently fired. I am still stunned! While I am trying to figure out what the purpose of this “reveal” is, I’d like to know if this is a legal act? I know, on the other side of it, it’s illegal for an employer to prohibit discussion among employees about salary, but what about the flipside?
I totally get the stunned part of this, because in American culture this is just.not.done. Salaries are all hush hush. And, even while it’s legal to share your salary with your co-workers, we don’t because it’s been beat into us that it’s inappropriate to talk about money and especially not salaries. Shhh.
So, when a boss breaks that taboo, we all freak-out. But, to answer your basic question–yes, it’s legal. Unless your state/town has some specific law prohibiting the sharing of salaries, there’s not thing to prevent companies from renting a billboard on I95 and listing employee salaries there. (I have to state, on the record, that I’m opposed to them renting the billboard for that purpose.)
But, I love it. I love that you know all your co-workers’ salaries and that your co-workers know yours. (With the exception of including the fired guy. That’s just weird.) Why do I love it? Because knowledge is power.
We can whine all we want about the “wage gap” between men and women. We can argue whether it’s discrimination or it’s choice or it’s due to number of hours worked, but it won’t be solved until we’re open about salaries. Our culture is so strongly against it, that it’s hard. Bosses generally want people to be silent because then they have all the power. Imagine you get a job offer that is like this:
Dear Jane Doe,
We’re pleased to offer you the position of Sr. Technical Analyst, at an annual salary of $65,000, paid biweekly. For your information, here are the salaries of your co-workers:
- Jose Garcia, Sr. Technical Analyst $75,000
- Howard Watson, Sr. Technical Analyst, $82,000
- Uli Schmidt, Sr. Technical Analyst, $76,000
Would you ever, in a million years, accept that $65,000 salary? Of course not. You’d say, “Why am I not being offered what Jose, Howard and Uli are making?” Now, there could be a very good reason, “Howard has an MBA from Harvard. Jose has 10 years of Experience, and Uli just has one of those cool Swiss names that we wish we could use if we ever had another baby. You, on the other hand, just finished your undergrad degree yesterday. That’s why we’re offering you a significantly lower salary.”
Unfortunately, though, those gaps do occur but we don’t know about them. The only thing that allows them to continue is the secrecy around salary. And, even when you find them out and want to complain, it’s not considered correct to say, “Hey, I just found out that Jose, Howard and Uli all make considerably more than I do. I need a $12,000 raise, minimum.” We say, “You need to show market data and blah, blah, blah.” Well, what better market data is there than your actual co-workers’ salaries?”
If a boss can’t explain why there is a salary discrepancy between two people doing the same job, either you need a new boss or someone needs a new salary. There are lots of valid reasons why Howard should make considerably more than Jane. For instance, Jane wants a 35 hour work week, and Howard regularly works 60 hours a week. Or Howard handles 250 calls per week and Jane is lucky to squeak in at 125. But, if they are doing the same level of work with the same performance, their salaries should be very close.
So, yeah, stunning that your manager would do this. Maybe not wise, given the current culture. But, I would really like to see a move towards more open salaries. Sunlight cleanses a lot. Some managers, though, are like vampires and hide from sunlight. You share a salary and they freak out. But, there’s no reason to freak out if we’re all honest and above board. Some managers are not.