Recently some new people started in my department and several have been unprofessional to the extent of openly discussing their salaries with anybody with whom they are working. Because they are (so I've been told) making more than some others who have been in the department for years, there has been an increase in discussions among employees in regards to compensation.

I emailed my manager in general terms about being frustrated by the endless questioning about my compensation by "some" of my coworkers in hopes of a general announcement being made to the department about professionalism, company policies, yadda yadda.

Then they asked for names.

I respectfully declined to provide the information via email, and soon after I received a meeting request.

How in-depth should I be expected to go? Should I be willing to provide names and details of conversations, or is should that be outside the manager's expectations?

  • You're not 10 years old, you're not "tattling", just go right ahead and say everything openly. – Fattie Jul 9 '17 at 23:29
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    what is unprofessional about discussing salary, exactly? – bharal Jul 10 '17 at 8:32
  • Are "some" of your co-workers the same as those who initially disclosed their salaries? Also: Is keeping your salary confidential part of the company policy, and if so, documented anywhere? – rath Jul 10 '17 at 11:28
  • @bharal It's illegal in some countries. – Jonast92 Jul 10 '17 at 11:51

Them sharing their salaries (and you sharing yours, if you want) should not be a problem, assuming the manner in which this is done isn't particularly distracting (this might depend on your location). If it is distracting, you could make a case about having difficulty concentrating on your job, but this would be a different story entirely.

However, being endlessly questioned about your compensation anything is harassment.

If you're making harassment accusations, it's perfectly reasonable and generally expected to share the names of those harassing you and the details of the harassment.

Although it should also be fine to decline to give details, explaining that you simply hoped for a general announcement about professionalism, but it would be understandable for them to do little or nothing in response to that, if you decide to go that route (I wouldn't know what legal obligations they have if you don't give details, and they may not feel comfortable making a company-wide announcement when there are only 1 or 2 bad apples).

If repeatedly asked about my compensation (assuming I don't want to share it), I personally would quickly make it clear that I have no obligation to share this information with them and them repeatedly asking me about it is unprofessional, unacceptable and harassment.

If that doesn't dissuade them from questioning me about it, it would be unreasonable for them to not think I would escalate this further by going to HR about it.

Of course this is a fairly conflict-heavy approach - simply declining to share the information a few times, in no uncertain terms, and then going to HR if they keep asking is also reasonable.

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Your manager should respect your decision to keep the names anonymous if that's what you want. You already volunteered information that management wouldn't have known about otherwise. In the meeting I believe you should say exactly what you said here -- that you didn't want to cause any trouble and just wanted a general announcement about professionalism. You can go more in-depth about some of the discussions you heard and why you think they're distracting in the work environment, and maybe even the fact that some of the people involved are newer and probably weren't briefed on the subject at hand. If after your explanation you're still being pressed, it's really up to you to gauge how firm you want to stand on your ground.

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  • general announcements won't give you any anonymity: the people who were harassing you will know you went and complained. It just ensures they will be embarrassed by a public announcement. It will actually be more discreet to name names and let a manager talk to them one on one and tell them to stop. Ironic, I know. – Kate Gregory Jul 9 '17 at 15:52

In the US it is perfectly legal to discuss your earnings with fellow employees. It seems these people are doing their colleagues a service by informing them that they are underpaid. It seems really unprofessional for your firm to pay people in such a haphazard fashion.

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    While it's perfectly legal to discuss salary, it's also perfectly legal for the company to fire you if they don't like it. What's legal or not has often very little to do with what's practical and the best course of action. – Hilmar Jul 9 '17 at 14:00
  • -1: In the entire US? Employment law is governed by both state and federal laws. Without a specific citation this answer is both off-topic and of poor quality. – kevin cline Jul 9 '17 at 17:46
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    Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers have the right to engage “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” and “organize a union to negotiate with [their] employer concerning [their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” – Glen Pierce Jul 9 '17 at 20:52
  • It may be "legal" to discuss salary, but if no one ever does anything concrete about it, they're just wasting their breath and creating a toxic environment. – teego1967 Jul 10 '17 at 10:35
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    i believe it is illegal, in the US, to fire someone for discussing salary – bharal Jul 10 '17 at 18:52

People have wildly differing abilities when it comes to salary negotiation, also, it since the talent market fluctuates, some may have been hired when talent was scarce, others when it was plentiful. Now they're all working in the same place but with quite a variance in salary.

Usually employees keep their mouths shut about salary, because it often leads to hard feelings and bickering. Some of that is understandable if we're talking truly vast differences in pay. Perhaps more telling, however, is the people affected often don't go to management with this problem, they prefer to complain amongst themselves.

Unfortunately, you have decided to bring this up to management for them.

What you've done is put "a problem" into management's lap thinking that they would deal with it in a way that you find agreeable. They have instead decided to put YOU on the hot-seat by asking you to implicate the salary-discontented folks.

That's a very hard position to be in. Take it as a lesson-learned about not forcing management to deal with something that doesn't concern you.

As for "tattling"... that's up to you. The consequences can be harsh because if your name gets mentioned, that will instantly mark you as untrustworthy among your peers. Alternatively, if the people involved deny they've been complaining that makes you look bad with management. It's a "no win" situation. No one will get anything good out of this.

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