When Should You Discuss Your Compensation at Work?

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 19, 2024 at 9:4PM UTC

Only roughly 20% of businesses and organizations have salary transparency. But what does this actually mean in practice?

Today, more and more states and areas are requiring employers to post salary ranges in job listings, including California, Maryland and Rhode Island. This is an important stride forward for workers, who will have a better idea of what to expect from a prospective employer. But what about within the workplace? Is it legal to talk about your salary? And, if it is, SHOULD you?

Is it legal to discuss compensation at work?

The short answer is yes: according to the National Labor Relations Act, employees are entitled to discuss their pay with others. This law has been in place since 1935, and it makes it unlawful for employers to prohibit employees from participating in any discussions of wages.

Bear in mind, however, that NLRA does not apply to all employers. (Find out if your employer is covered here.)

When should you discuss compensation at work?

Just because, for the most part, you CAN discuss compensation at work, should you?

Well, that depends. There are certain circumstances under which this could benefit you and/or your colleagues.

You want to make sure you’re being paid your value.

When employees don’t discuss their salaries, it becomes easier for employers to underpay some of their workers — ones who may deserve as much or more than their well-paid counterparts. But when you are more willing to discuss this openly, you will be better prepared to ask for a raise — and know how much you should ask for.

There’s also the possibility that many employees are being underpaid. In that case, knowing one another’s salaries could put you in a better position to support your coworkers and negotiate as a group.

You want to encourage pay equity.

In 2022, the uncontrolled gender pay gap is $0.82 for women per every dollar men earn, according to PayScale. Pay transparency, however, can help close the gap and encourage pay equity. No matter what your gender, you can help ensure that your employer is practicing fair and equitable salary policies by sharing your own salary with your colleagues. This isn’t just about gender — you also want to promote pay equity for people of different races, ethnicities and other minority groups. 

When should you not discuss compensation at work?

You have a feeling it would cause problems.

Discussing your salary with your coworkers can certainly create tension in some instances. It can cause people to become resentful of those who make more than them, even if it’s deserved. It can also adversely impact your relationships with your colleagues if there are feelings of jealousy. 

Remember, too, that many people are uncomfortable discussing their salaries, especially with coworkers. It’s important to be respectful of this. You yourself may not wish to share information that feels private, and you shouldn’t be pressured to do so.

A prospective employer is pressuring you to do so.

Sometimes, a hiring manager or recruiter will ask you to share your current salary or salary history in an interview. You do not have to answer, nor should you — this is usually a tactic to lowball you if and when they extend an offer. If you were underpaid in the past, then this trend will only continue. 

In fact, many states and cities have enacted laws banning employers from asking candidates for their salary histories. As of 2022, there are 21 state-wide bans, and Rhode Island’s law will go into effect in 2023. 

Why should you discuss compensation at work?

There are many reasons why you might want to discuss compensation at work. If you’re an employee, you probably want to make sure you’re being paid fairly. You also want to confirm that there is no pay discrimination at play. 

If you’re a leader, you have the power to ensure that your employees are being paid fairly and equitably. You also have a responsibility to encourage a level playing field and contribute to a culture that values and appreciates employees and colleagues.

That said, remember to be cautious when initiating or participating in discussions about salary — it’s not always the time or place.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

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