Can you discuss your salary?

Can you discuss your salary?

Can you discuss your salary?

I’m sure I already have a lot of eyebrows raised just by reading the title. Scandalized? Scared? Curious? Take it easy – let me allay all your fears. I’ll get straight to the point – no beating around the bush. The answer to the above question is YES. You can DEFINITELY discuss your salary/compensation/remuneration with your co-workers. Surprised? I maintain – the answer the question (title) is YES.

There’s no law in our constitution/judicial system that prevents us from doing so. Any employer that uses any clause in the offer/joining letter does so ILLEGALLY. This move is not backed by the Indian Judiciary. It’s something the employers especially the HR team does to safeguard their unholy interests. Let me be honest though – the answer to the titular question is not a simple YES/NO. there are caveats too.

Let’s delve deeper.

Why you should discuss: It gives us (and perhaps the others) a better understanding of what remuneration a particular post/position demands. Our knowledge of the same is limited to whatever little information (mostly fabricated) we gain from the HR. hence discussing salary gives us the competitive edge when we sit for the next appraisal discussion. Many of us consider our salaries ‘personal’ – that’s only because we have been brainwashed to believe so. By who – no prizes for guessing.

The HR (sadly) follow a simple principle: Hire the best talent you can, at the lowest pay possible. I don’t blame them entirely – they have targets to achieve, deadlines to meet. However, as discussed early – this is illegal. Maybe not ‘illegal’ – however it’s not legal either. In short – there’s no law that prohibits an employee from discussing his pay with his colleagues.

Here are some facts:

I quote verbatim:

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), enacted in 1935, private-sector employees have the right to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

It simply means that you and your co-workers get to talk together about things that matter to you at work. Compensation is one of those things you can talk about. The National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), has long held that these pay secrecy policies that many employers have in writing violate the NLRA. Even if an employee signs a non-disclosure agreement with an employer, the employee would still be protected when talking about salary. Employers can’t just declare information about people’s pay to be confidential information that can’t be discussed.

What about employers that violate the NLRA?

To your utter dismay, NOTHING SERIOUS happens to them. So, they would not think twice before violating the NLRA. Now, the NLRB can order employers to provide back pay* to employees terminated on grounds of (falsely propagated and implemented) violating the non-disclosure clause. They also need to reinstate their old jobs.

*Back pay: The amount of salary and other benefits that an employee claims that he or she is owed after a wrongful termination.

The president’s executive order provides a penalty that goes beyond the labour board’s punishments. Companies that work for the federal government and retaliate against employees for talking about pay could now lose a federal contract and a lot of money. In the US, even a very remote threat that you’ll lose your federal contract is a very big concern.


Now, this would definitely give endless nightmares to the HR team. Now they need to work harder on the Compensation and Benefits piece to put things together. The would have to appease both the stakeholders and employees. This also stops them from exploiting the employees (at least financially). They can no longer keep the salary graph going southwards just to keep their big bosses happy. If an employee files a class action lawsuit and can prove that they were made to sign an NDA under pressure, that NDA would be null and void.

*NDA: Non-Disclosure Agreement

Do they want to do this – probably not? Hence the wilful attempt at stopping you from discussing your pay.

It’s not all that simple too. Here are few things that we may want to consider before we start discussing ₹, $, £ etc.

  • You may offend some people when you ask them about their pay. Not everyone would like to tell you how much (or how less) they make in a month/year.
  • You may discuss your pay only with your co-workers. It may still be illegal to discuss your pay with people outside the organization. The reason is simple – pay structure for a company may be considered they trade secret and can harm their interests if the information is leaked to other employers especially the competition.
  • You may not discuss the above during your work/productive hours. You can be questioned for ‘negligence of duty’. You may, however, discuss the same with your co-workers during your non-productive hours e.g. breaks, before/after work hours.
  • You may not discuss pay with or in the proximity of your clients/customers.
  • You can discuss pay – however, cannot gather/extract the same from files that you are not granted access to.
  • If your work for the HR, you may not discuss anybody’s salary except yours.
  • Exceptions to the NLRA: government employees, agricultural laborers, domestic workers in a home, people employed by a parent or spouse, or independent contractors.
  • Also, some employees may lie about their salary – mostly they would inflate their salaries to match their egos – hence misinforming you. That’s why salary discussion is not a very effective way of arriving at a conclusion about the industry standards for pay for a specific profile.

All said and done, my suggestion to one and all – please come out of the closet – discuss your pay by all means and let this transparency help us make more, monthly, annually ?

Happy earning!!!

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