Knowledge is Power: The Real Reasons Employers Don't Want You Discussing Your Salary

It may have happened to you or someone you know: Being told by an employer not to discuss your salary with others in the workplace. The most important thing to be aware of in this case is that, under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers have the legal right to participate in “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection.” And while it’s still fairly common for workplaces to discourage you from talking about your salary, the reasons why might vary wildly.


It can lead to low morale

A happy worker is a productive worker, so some employers prefer to keep their employees in the dark about pay in order to keep the metaphorical machine running smoothly. After all, ignorance is bliss, right? Discovering that the person who works right next to you is receiving a larger paycheck could quickly lead to bad moods and bad attitudes—neither of which tends to boost productivity and all of which will likely hurt the company’s bottom line.

It forces companies to be organized

Problems tend to arise when employees discuss their wages and discover discrepancies that can’t be attributed to rational differences like time spent at the company, differences in positions or tasks, etc. U.S. News and World Report points out that “if firms can’t justify their pay decisions, this is a sign that their pay decisions aren’t justifiable.” These “irrational or incoherent” pay scales are a surefire indication that the company is disorganized (at best) or duplicitous (at worst). Overhauling their current pay system may seem like an overwhelming task for companies, and something they would rather get away with not doing.

It can lead to employee tension

Many jobs require at least a certain level of trust and comradery between coworkers in order to make the whole business run efficiently and smoothly. These relationships can quickly erode if differences in pay are discussed and discovered. Resentment—whether it’s between coworkers or between employees and employers—could act as the first domino that leaves the whole corporate structure crumbling.

It can help them get away with paying less

It makes sense that if no one discusses their pay, some coworkers will get paid less than others and be none the wiser. This helps companies keep their expenses down and ultimately helps their bottom line. That’s all the more reason, posits The New York Times, why employees should keep an open dialogue with their coworkers about how much everyone is getting compensated.

It can expose unfair wage practices

It may be hard to believe, but in this day and age, women and minorities are still getting less when it comes to pay. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that in 2022, “black women earned 70 percent as much as white men and Hispanic women earned only 65 percent as much. The ratio for white women stood at 83 percent.” When employees share how much money they make, those who tend to suffer from repressed wages will soon find out how much less they are getting paid—putting pressure on the company to address the inequality. 

When it comes to discussing salary, it’s important to know your legal rights and (most importantly) the fact that employers cannot legally forbid you from doing so. Unfortunately, many companies still attempt to gag employees when it comes to discussing pay because the penalties are so mild. The Atlantic reports that these penalties can include actions such as reinstatement for wrongful termination, back-pay, and/or “informational remedies such as the posting of a notice by the employer promising to not violate the law.” Many employers are willing to take the risk of unfairly compensating their workers when their “punishment” is possibly just putting up a sign. What this demonstrates is that it’s more critical than ever to stand up for yourself and your colleagues by making sure everyone is treated fairly and compensated in a logical, goal-oriented manner.

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