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Let's start with some clarifications:

  • The colleague in question is at a different company than mine
  • I directly interface with him on a current project, and will likely to continue to for a while
  • His salary (and everyone's at his company) is openly published

Is it ethical for me to look up his salary? (I'm not concerned about professionalism at the moment)

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  • 15
    If it's openly published then it's certainly not unethical.
    – Ben
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:03
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    But you have our permission to feel a little dirty while you're doing it. Oct 14, 2014 at 17:03
  • @JoelEtherton, but if I feel dirty, haven't I violated an ethic? :)
    – wnnmaw
    Oct 14, 2014 at 17:14
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    @wnnmaw: No, we feel dirty for violating morals, not ethics ;) Oct 14, 2014 at 17:25
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    "Looking up" sounds dangerously close to learning. No good ever came from learning anything, so ethical or not, it sounds like a bad idea. Oct 14, 2014 at 18:46

4 Answers 4

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Is it ethical for me to look up his salary? (I'm not concerned about professionalism at the moment)

If his salary is publicly available knowledge, then looking it up isn't a problem.

On the other hand, if "looking it up" means something like running a database query that the general public doesn't have access to, that's a different matter.

Learning public information shouldn't raise any ethical concerns, unless your profession or company has a specific "Code of Ethics" that prohibits learning this information.

Here's one way to examine your own feelings about this issue - would it ruin your relationship with this colleague, if he learned that you knew his (publicly available) salary?

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"It is openly published" - for whose consumption?

  • If the info is meant to be published for internal staff consumption only, then you are crossing a line.

  • If the info is openly published on their website, then it's begging to be looked up.

  • If the info is in a printout and your colleague left it on the table and you happened to glance in the direction of the table ... don't tell me anything - I don't want to know what you know. I am not putting blame on you, it is your colleague's responsibility to keep confidential information confidential.

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  • "and you happened to glance in the direction of the table", which is because I can't control my eye movements 100% of all the time. Fair point. I love that!
    – KhoPhi
    Jan 10, 2019 at 19:00
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Yes. It's in employer's best interest that employees not know each other's salaries. It gives them a leg up in salary negotiation.

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Not only is it ethical to look up his salary in public records, it may even be unethical to not look it up. Your ignorance would make it easier for both companies to cheat and discriminate their employees.

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