The pros and cons of comparing your wages with others.
By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer
Your employer may discourage you from discussing your compensation with your co-workers, but did you know it’s not actually illegal? In fact, the law gives you the right to have those conversations if you choose.
Here’s what you need to know about discussing your salary. It’s not illegal
Employees may get the impression they’re not allowed to compare pay rates or other compensation with their co-workers. But not only is it legal to do so, it’s illegal for employers to prohibit it, says David Reischer, a lawyer and CEO of LawyerReviews.com.
“The 1935 National Labor Relations Act specifically indicates that employees have the right to engage in ‘concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,’” he says. Employers are not allowed to establish “pay secrecy” policies or use a nondisclosure agreement to prevent employees from discussing their compensation.
The benefits of talking pay
There are several benefits to comparing the salary you receive with what your co-workers are making. One is that you can get a better idea of how to price your own work.
“The benefit of allowing people to freely discuss their compensation is that it prevents employers from controlling all market signals and in doing so hindering fair competition,” Reischer says. “The central policy of allowing people to discuss their compensation is that this allows people to have a better ability to organize fair pay and living wages so that they are not disabused by monopolistic tendencies.”
Not only can it help you see if you’re being paid fairly, it can expose discrimination, says Donna Ballman, an employee-side employment attorney and author of “Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired.” You may find a trend of certain classes of employees being paid less than others, such as a gender or age group.
“Employers hate it when employees discuss salaries because it exposes discrimination and other unfair pay practices,” she says. “If your employer has a written policy or contract prohibiting salary discussions, you can report them to the National Labor Relations Board.”
Sharing salary information provides workers with an opportunity to organize and better overall conditions in general, says attorney Michael Rehm. This can lead to a collective bargaining effort, or simply an informal push for better wages. Disadvantages of discussing compensation
Talking about your compensation can give you more information about conditions and pay across the company, but it can also sow discontent, Rehm says. “The cons are obviously that it can cause jealousy and rebellion in the workplace from the employer’s point of view.” If workers are unhappy about their pay, their productivity may drop. Employees may also turn on each other if they feel some people are getting more than others feel they deserve.
It’s also important to remember that an employer or former employer can prevent you from discussing your work or compensation outside of work through a nondisclosure agreement, Rehm says.