Think Salaries Are Confidential? Google Found Out They Aren’t

American culture says that salary information is confidential; 43 percent of married couples couldn’t correctly name their spouse’s salary. Some were off by as much as $25,000. We don’t talk about salaries with our friends and family, and we certainly don’t talk about them with our co-workers. Leaving a list of salaries on the copy machine is certainly a fireable offense in many companies. But, despite all the confidentiality, it’s all self-imposed. Federal law protects your right (and the right of your employees) to discuss their working conditions–including salary.

So, some people at Google did just that. Erica Baker, a former Google employee, created a spreadsheet on which people could report their own salaries. According to Baker, management freaked out. She told the story through a series of tweets. After Baker created the spreadsheet and word of it started spreading, she got called in by her supervisor. Here’s the critical part.

To keep reading, click here? Think Salaries Are Confidential? Google Found Out They Aren’t


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14 thoughts on “Think Salaries Are Confidential? Google Found Out They Aren’t

  1. People absolutely need to be able to discuss their salaries with co-workers. Because that was not done, Lillie Ledbetter lost years’ worth of compensation for her gender-based disparately low salary. No doubt, her case was just the tip of the iceberg.

  2. i agree with the article. I think the top reasons are:

    1. They don’t want people to find out they were low balled with the salary offer
    2. Don’t want to deal with under performers complaining that they don’t get paid as high as the top performers.

    I, personally, know my coworkers would choke on their sandwiches if they knew what I made. I’ve been there longer than most and take more accountability and work assignments than people in the same position. But, there are the ones that let me make the hard decisions and expect to get paid the same.

    However, maybe it would be a motivator if the management just sucked it up and made salaries public. They would have to deal with some crap, but 1) starting salary disparities would cease 2) it might motivate low performers to step up their game if they see that there is a tangible reward.

  3. What really rankles me is that there are some employers out there who justify paying a woman much less than a man if they know that her husband makes a good salary, or if she (alone, or with her husband) appear(s) to be living “in luxury.” And they perpetuate this unfairness by saying that any employee will be fired if she discloses her salary to another employee. I think talking about your salary should be left up to the individual, with no threats involved. If someone asks you what you make and you don’t want to tell them, all you have to do is say, “I’d rather not say.” After all, it’s YOUR money.

  4. I think salary disclosure should also be on the front end. I work in government so our job postings include the salary range for each position. It saves a lot of guesswork in determining if it’s worth it to even apply to a job. It sucks going through multiple interviews and call backs and skills tests only to get to the offer stage and find out that the salary range is way lower than you could accept.

  5. Several decades ago my great aunt worked in a brokerage. She trained a young, newly hired fellow. Somehow she discovered that his salary was quite a bit more than her’s. My aunt, an unfailingly polite and genteel lady, marched into the manager’s office and succinctly made her point. She walked out with a salary slightly higher than her trainee’s. My aunt was blessed with many good qualities, courage among them. If she had any bad qualities they went unrecorded.

  6. So what do we do when our employer expressly prohibits discussing salary and considers it a possibly fireable offense? Most places I’ve worked have had this policy.

    1. Company policy will never trump state or federal law. It’s like saying it’s against policy for them to pay you for overtime, or to pay taxes.

  7. My only issue with sharing salaries among co-workers, are when they do not understand the concept of payroll and taxes. Employees do not just share gross pay amounts, they have shared net pay and Bob wants to know why Jim is taking home more than he is… Well, let’s see, Bob is single and claiming 0 exemptions, so the maximum tax allowed is deducted, but his medical insurance premium is lower. Jim is married with 4 children and his wife does not work, so he is claiming 7 exemptions. Even though his medical premium is higher, his tax rate itself is a lot lower. I have had conversations with employees like this that have lasted well over an hour. My employer at the time did have the “don’t discuss salary” with anyone position, however I had to point to the NLRB and say, if you want the union or DOL here, keep saying that!

    I feel it is up to the individual employee to make a decision whether they want others to know their salary, not management, but I feel other employees need to respect those that do NOT want to discuss salary.

    1. First off, how many children someone has or doesn’t have has no impact on job performance, and therefore is irrelevant to this conversation.

      1. It is relevant to her point that she was stating in that the number of exemptions an EE (employee) elects for tax purposes impacts their net pay. Exemptions = children (aka dependents). Net pay = “take home pay”. Please be educated in the topic & related terminology before making rash judgments & speaking on them.

        Have a great day!

  8. I know what the federal law says, but I work in an at will work state. My managers have stated many times that we are not permitted to discuss pay issues, paid time off issues, paid holidays, or any other compensation issue with any staff member, or with staff members in other offices or we will be fired. We are non exempt workers. None of this is in writing, and yes, I believe they would fire us, only it would be for no reason at all. Just your services are no longer required. Sure, if that happened to one of us we could hire an attorney if we had the money to do so, but with nothing in writing, and working at will, what could possibly be done? It’s not like anyone else in the office would step up and say “yes, I heard them say this and Jane discussed her salary, and was then let go”. They’d be afraid of being fired too.

    I think what we need is a national push for worker’s rights and for the federal government to start making it known that yes, workers have a right to discuss these things, and no, you as the employer cannot quash it. In my company’s case, I don’t know if it’s ignorance of the law, or if they just choose to violate it because they can. And as Retail Lifer said above, this is not the first time I’ve encountered it in my working life. It’s actually quite common.

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