How to Discuss Salaries in the Workplace

Stay professional and avoid gossip with regard to salaries in the workplace.

Stay professional and avoid gossip with regard to salaries in the workplace.

Your salary -- and that of your co-workers -- is a sensitive subject. You may be dying to know whether the lazy co-worker is getting paid the same as you, or whether the guy driving the fancy car is getting paid significantly more. While there may not be any legal ramifications to discussing salaries in the workplace, it could damage morale or have other negative consequences. As such, tread very carefully in this touchy territory.

Step 1

Read your employee handbook or your employment contract to find out whether there are any company policies regarding discussing employee salaries. Some employers do have a "confidentiality" policy against this, which could lead to some type of retaliation or reprimand. According to the National Labor Relations Act, you can't technically get fired for talking about salaries amongst co-workers, but employers can restrict you from talking about it during work time or in work areas.

Step 2

Look for subtle clues instead of asking outright. Whether or not there's a company policy in place, it's typically considered uncouth to directly ask co-workers what they're making. However, you can get some clues by paying attention to how they talk about their jobs or the vague comments they make. A person who is happy with their salary probably won't complain, but someone who's making pennies probably will. Instead of asking outright, ask a person whether they're happy with their current job and whether there is anything they would change.

Step 3

Talk about salary with your boss during negotiations for raises or promotions. That's about the only time it's totally acceptable-- both formally and informally -- to talk about salaries in the workplace. To give you some idea of how much you could or should be making, use national salary databases, such as the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook (see link in Resources). If necessary, print out the information for your boss to see. If the range for your job title or industry is significantly lower than what you're currently making, consider yourself lucky -- you're already making more than many people in your line of work. If it's the opposite, the salary range outlined in the handbook could be a bargaining chip for a raise.


  • Business owners will most likely frown upon you discussing salaries with co-workers in the workplace, but there's nothing stopping you from discussing them outside of the workplace. If you have close friends or associates at work, take them out for happy hour and discuss it to your heart's content. Just realize that once you spill the beans, you can't take it back, and your co-workers may share the information with others, which could lead to unnecessary conflict.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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