Can an employer disclose your salary to other employees?

Updated on August 9, 2023
Can your employer disclose your salary to other employees

In today's competitive job market, salary discussions have become a common topic of conversation among employees.

The question of whether an employer can disclose your salary to other employees is not only a matter of curiosity but also a concern that can impact workplace dynamics and individual privacy.

In the USA, employers can disclose your salary to other employees only if you provide consent or if required by law, such as in the case of public sector employees. Generally, it is best practice to maintain confidentiality of employee salaries to ensure a healthy work environment.

This article delves into the legal and ethical aspects of sharing salary information within an organization, exploring the circumstances under which such disclosure is permissible and examining best practices for maintaining confidentiality.

By understanding the intricacies of this sensitive issue, both employers and employees can contribute to a more respectful, transparent, and harmonious work environment.

Can an employer disclose your salary without your permission?

Can an employer disclose your salary without your permission

Yes, an employer can disclose your salary without your permission to any relevant agencies that have the authority to obtain such information.

Examples of such agencies that could ask your employer for salary information would be state tax and the IRS, or any other tax-related agency local to your country.

No door is closed when it comes to collecting taxes.

Bear in mind that the amount of money you earn is not some sort of top-secret information.

Also, your employer can disclose your salary without your permission to relevant staff members such as your team leads, department managers, or HR representatives.

Besides, this is a good thing! Perhaps they are being like: “Hey, Fred does good work! How much money does Fred make? Let’s take a look and see what we can do. Maybe we can give him more money!”

If you are being sued (to pay child support, for example), then your employer will be obligated to disclose your salary after a court order.

Essentially, a court order would be the ultimate UNO card. It just wins the game immediately and nothing can be done about it. Your employer will have no other choice but to comply.

However, employers would usually not disclose salary information to creditors or other third parties.

Essentially, if one day some shady person pops up at your office and demands to speak to your boss about how much money you make. Well, that would be quite weird, wouldn’t it?

I imagine that would be quite embarrassing. And there would be all sorts of questions that will pop up in the heads of your boss and colleagues.

Like, is this somebody you owe money to? Or, is this a family member with a gambling addiction?

Regardless, I am sure that your boss would politely ask the person to leave. Or they would call security.

Employer salary-sharing considerations

When it comes to salary disclosure in the United States, employers should be cautious and respectful of their employees' privacy. Here are some key points to consider.

If an employee has provided their consent, either explicitly or implicitly, a US employer may disclose their salary information to other employees. However, it's important to ensure that the consent is genuine and not coerced.

In some cases, US law might require employers to disclose salary information. For instance, public sector employees may have their salaries disclosed as part of transparency measures. In such cases, employers must comply with the legal requirements.

3. Confidentiality

As a general rule, it is best practice for US employers to maintain confidentiality regarding employee salaries. Disclosing salary information without a valid reason or consent can lead to conflicts and morale issues among the workforce.

4. Equal Pay and Transparency

Some US companies may adopt a transparent salary policy to promote equal pay and reduce pay discrimination in line with the Equal Pay Act and other anti-discrimination legislation. In such cases, employees should be made aware of the policy before joining the company, and the disclosure should be done in a structured and respectful manner.

5. Potential Consequences

Unauthorized disclosure of salary information in the United States may result in legal issues, such as invasion of privacy or violation of data protection laws. Additionally, it can harm employee morale, trust, and potentially lead to workplace conflicts.

In summary, employers in the United States should be cautious about disclosing employee salaries and should only do so when required by law or with the employee's consent.

Maintaining confidentiality and respecting employees' privacy are important aspects of a healthy work environment in the US.

What employees have access to salary information

In the USA, certain employees within a company or organization may have access to the salary information of other employees due to their job responsibilities or roles. These employees typically include

1. Human Resources (HR) Professionals

HR personnel are usually responsible for managing payroll, employee benefits, and compensation packages. As part of their job duties, they have access to salary information for all employees within the organization.

2. Managers and Supervisors

Managers and supervisors may have access to salary information for the employees they directly oversee. This information helps them make decisions about promotions, raises, and bonuses.

3. Executives and Senior Management

High-level executives and senior management, such as CEOs, CFOs, and COOs, often have access to salary information for all employees within the company. This information assists them in making strategic decisions about compensation, budgeting, and overall company direction.

4. Payroll and Finance Staff

Employees working in payroll and finance departments may have access to salary information as they process paychecks and manage company finances.

Legal and compliance professionals within a company may need access to salary information to ensure the organization adheres to relevant labor laws and regulations, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or the Equal Pay Act.

It's important to note that employees with access to salary information should maintain confidentiality and only use this information for legitimate business purposes.

Unauthorized disclosure or misuse of salary information can lead to legal issues, breaches of privacy, and workplace conflicts.

Is it illegal to discuss wages at work with your colleagues?

Is it illegal to discuss wages at work with your colleagues

In the USA, it is not illegal to discuss wages at work with your colleagues. According to the National Labor Relations Act, employees are allowed to discuss salary and working conditions amongst themselves.

Besides, why would it be? As we already established, salary is not some sort of special magical information that needs to be kept secret.

Is salary confidential by law? No. Of course not! And if you have come to think so, it is probably because you’ve been to plenty of workplaces where company policy discourages or strictly forbids the discussion of compensation between workers.

This should generally apply to most countries from around the world but I wouldn't be surprised if there are places where things were different. The world has plenty of catching up to do with modern human rights, and I don’t mean just salary talk.

To this day, there are many places with terrible labor laws. And terrible labor conditions. Discouraging or downright forbidding salary talk is just another tool used to silence people and control them.

Discussions of salary and working conditions should be allowed by law everywhere so that workers can organize and ask for better working conditions. Otherwise, big business wins. Even harder.

However, I personally think that this doesn't mean that a person can and should be able to freely access the salary information of their colleagues.

I know I said that it is not some kind of magical secret information but I think that people should be allowed the decency to choose whether or not to share this kind of information.

A worker should be able to withhold their salary details from their colleagues if they wish to.

Is it illegal to tell employees not to discuss pay?

I hate to say it but it all depends on where you are and what your local laws say. It’s all very convoluted and complicated. However, I find that the general trend is to have more and more pay transparency, especially in the USA.

For example, in 2015 the California Equal Pay Act was signed. Essentially, it says that employers are prohibited from telling their workers not to discuss their pay.

And then there is the National Labor Relations Act which protects workers’ rights, I believe on a national level.

Even if a person has signed a non-disclosure agreement, they are still legally allowed to discuss pay with other workers, no matter what state they are in.

Also, a company can’t fire a worker legally for discussing pay, be it at work or on social media.

So if somebody threatens you, you can wave these fancy laws and legislations in their face and shout at them: “I KNOW MY RIGHTS! I KNOW MY RIGHTS!”. I am sure this will shut them up. And possibly make them scared of you.

However, always refer to your local laws and regulations when it comes to these matters. And, if possible, consult with a legal specialist before taking any action.

Salary transparency in the workplace

Salary transparency in the workplace

Today, salary transparency, or pay transparency, is more than just a term thrown out there.

And while there is stigma around salary discussion everywhere you go, many companies from around the world have adopted salary transparency into their culture, regardless of what local laws and regulations say.

According to the 2021 Compensation and Culture Report by Beqom – a compensation software company – of 1000 people asked, 51% said that they would prefer to work for a company with more pay transparency.

Personally, I think this preference is more about the knowledge that you don’t work for an evil controlling company that uses all possible means to exploit its workers such as giving them extra responsibilities without giving them a raise.

From what I was able to find out, currently, there is no comprehensive study and analysis on whether or not pay transparency is actually beneficial for workers and companies. The science is just not in yet.

Of course, the common concern with salary transparency is that some people make more than others. And this leads to jealousy and morale gets low.

I can see that. Finding out that your colleague who also works 8 hours a day in the office makes a little or a lot more than you can be harsh. But I think that salary transparency is something more and more companies and organizations should embrace and make it a part of their culture.

Discussing salary has always been a bit of a taboo in the workplace, hasn’t it? At least in my experience, it has always been.

How come money is such a touchy subject when it comes to one's compensation? I guess people who feel underpaid are ashamed of how much they earn. And those who earn a lot might be worried about jealousy and their own safety.

From what I have found, statistics show that employers themselves discourage (or downright forbid) workers from discussing their salaries with other employees.

This is because morale can get low when somebody finds out that they are underpaid. And they might ask for a raise on the grounds that they do the same amount of work.

But how can we give workers the ability to earn more money and make a better living for themselves without giving them the opportunity to understand how their salary is formed?

My experience and advice for dealing with workplace salary gossip

As an experienced project manager at an international tech company, I have witnessed the detrimental effects of workplace salary gossip firsthand.

In a high-pressure environment where employees work hard to advance their careers, salary discussions can easily turn into an unhealthy comparison game that breeds envy, mistrust, and demotivation.

It all started when a team member casually mentioned their salary during a lunch break. This seemingly innocent conversation led to other employees discussing their pay, and soon enough, the entire office was abuzz with speculation, resentment, and unease.

The atmosphere quickly turned toxic, with some employees questioning their value and others feeling unfairly compensated.

As someone who values a positive and productive work environment, I knew I had to address this issue head-on. I've learned several valuable lessons from this experience, and I'd like to share my advice on how to deal with workplace salary gossip:

  1. Set the example - As a leader, it's essential to model the behavior you expect from your team members. Avoid discussing salaries with your colleagues, and if someone tries to engage you in a salary conversation, politely steer the discussion in a different direction.
  2. Encourage open communication - Encourage your team members to address their salary concerns with their direct manager or HR department, rather than engaging in gossip with their peers. By fostering a culture of open communication, you can help prevent misunderstandings and promote fairness.
  3. Educate your team - Organize workshops or training sessions to educate your team about the company's compensation policies and the factors that influence salary decisions. Understanding the rationale behind compensation structures can help alleviate some of the anxiety around this sensitive topic.
  4. Emphasize confidentiality - Remind your team members of the importance of maintaining confidentiality when it comes to salary information. Stress that sharing salary details without permission can lead to privacy violations and create unnecessary tension in the workplace.
  5. Focus on personal growth - Encourage your team members to focus on their own professional development, rather than comparing themselves to others. By concentrating on their skills and accomplishments, employees can channel their energy into more productive endeavors and avoid getting caught up in salary gossip.
  6. Address the issue promptly - If salary gossip persists, address the issue directly and promptly. Discuss the negative impact of such behavior on the team's morale and productivity, and remind everyone of the importance of maintaining a respectful and professional work environment.

By taking a proactive approach to dealing with workplace salary gossip, you can help create a more positive, collaborative, and productive atmosphere for your team, ultimately contributing to the overall success of your organization.

Frequently asked questions about employer sharing salary information

Is salary confidential by law in the USA?

There is no specific federal law in the USA that mandates salary confidentiality for private sector employees. However, various privacy and data protection laws may apply, and companies often have internal policies to maintain confidentiality. Public sector employees may have different rules, as some government positions require salary transparency.

Can HR disclose your salary to other employees?

HR professionals should maintain confidentiality when handling salary information. They should not disclose an employee's salary to other employees unless there is a legitimate business reason, the employee has given consent, or it is required by law. Unauthorized disclosure can result in legal issues and workplace conflicts.

Can a manager tell other employees your pay?

Managers should not disclose an employee's pay to other employees without a valid reason or the employee's consent. Sharing salary information without proper justification can lead to privacy concerns, reduced employee morale, and potential legal issues. Managers should maintain confidentiality and focus on creating a fair and respectful work environment.

Written by:
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galin office topics square
co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

11 comments on “Can an employer disclose your salary to other employees?”

  1. Can an private industry employer legally disclose salary and bonus information to a third party hired to evaluate the firm's operations and finances without authorization from its employees?

    1. Generally, yes, it is legal if there is a legitimate business reason for doing so which seems to be your case. The company I work for hired a third party agency a few years ago to optimize our operations as well. As long as they don't violate your privacy in any other way, it's fine. What are your concerns?

    1. It is generally not appropriate for a manager to discuss an individual employee's pay with other employees. In most cases, an employee's pay should be considered private information, and discussing it in front of others can lead to uncomfortable situations and potentially damage morale. If you have concerns about this, it may be best to speak with your manager directly or bring the issue to the attention of HR.

  2. My fiance's manager often throws the fact that she works less hours than anyone else but more in tips and therefore can step in the regulate the tip amounts( whenever she feels the need to). This has happened many times and I'm sick of her being bullied at work. We live in Arizona. Is there anything we can do? It's a small food business and the next up is an owner that would rather not get in the middle of it and let's it happen. My fiance has come home crying a number of times and has also been contacted via text message by her manager and brought to tears. My fiance is an asset to this company with a strong work ethic, is not a trouble maker. She really just wants to go to work, do a good job and come home to her family.

  3. I recently attended a meeting with 5 colleagues present where my employer disclosed my wage to the rest of the team (below my pay grade) in regards to the payroll officer overpaying certain team members. Is this legal/ethical?

  4. Can hr disclose bonus amounts to other employees? For instance reading off who is getting what bonus amount?

    1. If the company policy allows it, then yes. But I don't see how this will benefit employees because it may create unnecessary competition and hostility.

  5. So can a employee find out my salary and then confront me about it and share my wages with others within the office? Is this not harassment

    1. It is harassment and probably violates your office policy. Your salary is not their business. If this is your case, bring it up to your superiors. This toxic behavior is unacceptable.

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