Is It Appropriate to Discuss Salary with Your Coworkers?

Does your company have a policy in place that prevents you from discussing salary with your coworkers? You’re not alone. As noted by the United States Women’s Bureau, “nearly half of all workers nationally reported that they were either contractually forbidden or strongly discourage from discussing pay with their colleagues.”

discuss salary with coworkers

Companies cite their reason for such policies is to foster cooperation and discourage resentment among colleagues. But others argue that discussing salary is the only way for employees to determine if they are being mistreated by their employers, either from neglect or discrimination.

Both arguments have their merits, which leaves us in a bit of a conundrum. Is it appropriate for you to discuss your salary with your coworkers? Let’s find out.

Is It Okay To Discuss Salary?

Let’s clear up a common misconception right away: Your employer cannot legally forbid you from discussing your salary with fellow employees, nor can the company punish you for doing so.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employees to freely engage in activities that protect them or offer mutual aid. As Cynthia Estlund, a law professor at New York University, told NPR, this means “that you and your coworkers get to talk together about things that matter to you at work,” including pay.

Additionally, in 2014, President Obama signed an executive order into law that prohibited “federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries with one another.”

However, we should point out that there are employers not subject to the NLRA, such as federal, state, or local governments. There are a few private sector exceptions, too, so you may need to do some additional research to see if you are covered.

But Is It Appropriate?

Just because a conversation isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it is appropriate. If you choose to discuss salary with your coworkers, please heed the following advice:

Keep it professional. Remember that you’re gathering information, not muckraking for dirt. Approach the conversation like a professional, and don’t be outwardly upset if you find out you aren’t making as much as a coworker. Similarly, don’t show you’re delighted to find out you’re the one who makes more.

Speak with someone you trust. Don’t speak to just anyone. Discuss the matter with someone you trust who won’t use the conversation as an opportunity to spread office gossip.

Be reciprocal. If you are going to ask someone what they make, be willing to share in kind.

Don’t make assumptions. Do your research to see what the average salaries in your field at the national and local level. Even if a coworker is making more, you may be doing just fine. Also, be sure to find out whether your coworker has additional credentials, degrees, or training. These could explain any difference in pay.

Don’t be adversarial. Once you have the information you need, don’t storm into your manager’s office demanding a raise. Set up a time with your boss to discuss the matter amicably and come to an agreement that’s beneficial based on the value you bring to the team and what you’ve accomplished in your role.

Balance The Pros And Cons

As we mentioned earlier, there are cons you need to consider before deciding to talk about salaries with a coworker. If emotions aren’t kept in check, these kinds of conversations can lead to jealousy in the workplace, and if you speak to the wrong person, the office gossip can reach your manager before you have a chance to state your case. And, unfortunately, if your employer finds out you’ve been having these kinds of discussions the reaction could be hostile. While it is illegal for an employer to retaliate, that doesn’t mean they won’t. Retaliation can be subtle and difficult to prove, and your company may decide punishment is worth the risks.

On the other hand, gathering such information can help you address inequalities faced by you, a coworker, or the entire office. It can also give you the push to pursue fairer treatment and a better work-life balance. You may also discover the reason you’re underpaid is because you lack a desired certificate or degree, driving you to earn the credentials and improving your value on the job market.

Balance the pros and cons as well as your own comfort level to ensure any discussion involving salary is handled in an appropriate—and useful—manner.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market