Talking about money can be extremely awkward, especially when it comes to discussing how much you earn. And when we throw coworkers and workplace politics into the mix, money chat can be even more excruciating.
It’s for this reason that many employers discourage workers from discussing their salaries with fellow members of staff – or at least that’s the reason they’re most likely to give you.
“Your salary is confidential,” they may say. “Discussing salaries is a privacy issue and it can create awkwardness and discomfort amongst the team.”
Some employers place an outright ban on discussing salary, with employees assuming they can be fired for telling work pals how much they earn. But is your boss actually allowed to stop you talking about your pay?
Can your boss ban you from discussing your salary?
Employees have the legal right to discuss pay if they choose to, and there’s very little employers can actually do to legally ban these discussions.
Sure, employers can discourage you from discussing your salaries and they can request that you don’t discuss how much you’re paid in work time, but they can’t ban this chatter completely.
Thanks to the Equality Act of 2010, employees have the right to discuss salary for the purposes of collective bargaining or protection – so that if everyone’s being underpaid, people can come together and ask for more.
In an article in the Metro, Jane Crosby, Partner at Hart Brown Solicitors said: ‘Employers may say that pay rates are confidential but it is not unlawful to talk about salaries with each other. An employer could stop these discussions from taking place during working hours.’
What if my contract says that discussing salaries is prohibited?
If there is a clause in your contract suggesting salary discussions are prohibited, the good news is this isn’t legally enforceable.
Is it a good idea to discuss your salary with colleagues?
Personally, I think it’s a great idea to discuss your salary with your coworkers. I’m not suggesting you tell random people at the water cooler how much you earn, but if you have a close relationship with any of your colleagues, discussing your salaries with one another could help you suss out the company’s pay structure and negotiate for a better deal if necessary.
Pay secrecy plays a huge role in pay inequality. If employers were forced to disclose how much each member of staff was paid, workers would be in a better position to challenge unfair discrepancies, demand the money they deserve and move to more ethical companies if necessary.
The way I see it, if an employer is eager to discourage workers from discussing their pay, it’s because they have something to hide. How exciting that you and your work pals can uncover their filthy secrets over a couple of G&Ts in your favourite bar!
What’s the best way to ask a colleague how much they earn?
If you’re eager to start a conversation with your colleagues about pay, perhaps start with one or two work pals who you really trust. Start with the type of colleagues who’ve already demonstrated an ability to keep your secrets. Don’t utter a word to the office snitch. You don’t want them spreading your income around the whole office or badmouthing you to the boss.
Rather than pressuring your mates to disclose how much money they make, perhaps you could approach the conversation over a few drinks by saying something along the lines of: “I was reading this article the other day that talked about the benefits of discussing your salary with your colleagues. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours?”
Alternatively, send them a link to this post and see what they have to say!
Can I be fired for discussing my salary?
Legally speaking, the answer is no. Your employer has no right to fire you for discussing your salary with your colleagues.
However, although the law may aim to protect workers from unfair dismissal and ill-treatment at work, people are often let down and treated appallingly by their bosses anyway.
If your boss is a shady S.O.B, they can probably find a way to lay off the ‘office troublemaker’, without admitting they’re being let go for discussing their salary.
They might not even outright fire you. Instead, they could just make your life incredibly difficult in an attempt to punish you or drive you out of the company.
So although I’d love you to scream your salary from the rooftops, proceed with caution. I’d recommend only discussing it with people you really trust. It might also be worth having the conversation in person, rather than via social media, email or text.
Whatever you do, don’t discuss your salary in work emails.
I’ve been fired for discussing my salary with coworkers. What should I do?
If you’ve been fired and you have a reason to believe it’s because you discussed your salary with coworkers, you have the right to challenge this. It is illegal for employers to fire workers for this reason.
Get in touch with Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for free and impartial advice. Acas know everything there is to know about workplace relations and employment law and if you’re the victim of unfair dismissal, they’ll provide you with the information you need.
What have members of Money Mess To Financial Success said?
Do you know how much money your colleagues make? Back in May I asked this question in the Money Mess To Financial Success Facebook group and the replies were really interesting. Here are a couple:
“I work in the NHS so you have a rough idea of what everyone earns because of banding. I don’t mind it, I think it creates accountability. We all know who earns the most and people notice if someone doesn’t deliver what’s expected of their level!!“
“I’ve always been open with my colleagues – I’ve found being honest helps those who are being taken advantage of push for better (as was sadly the case for one colleague who was earning £6k less than everyone else on the same level for no less work/performance!). I think the whole secrecy “ooh you should never discuss your salary” thing allows companies to get away with pay gaps and to stop people for pushing for what they may deserve, so it’s a conversation I’ve always instigated at work.”
Some members of the group responded to say that discussing their salaries is considered a breach of contract in their workplaces. Here’s hoping that now we’re more aware of our rights, we can talk pay with our work pals and ensure we’re getting what we deserve.
This post is part of my #GetWhatYouDeserve campaign – a project designed to help you ask for more. Take a look at the first post in the series to learn more.