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Discussing salary a firing offense?

Has anyone worked some place that had this policy?  Was it good or bad for the employees?  For the company?  I have to say Joel's transparent compensation policies sound good, but I'm curious if a more secretive approach has its merits too.  Thoughts?
Curious about salaries
Monday, January 31, 2005
I had a long term client a while back that defined smoking (even outside work hours) as an offense meriting termination.

Unless the labor laws in your jurisdiction say otherwise, an employer can define virtually any brain dead policy they wish. Labor law in most of the US allows termination without cause.

Morally defensible... who knows. As long as the other employees around you kowtow to unreasonable employer demands, the tide is pretty much against taking a personal stand.

Personally I think censorship at this granularity is asinine/moronic/etc...
Bored Bystander Send private email
Monday, January 31, 2005
At most companies (at least in the US) this would be a firing offense. Every company I've worked at had this in place.
Monday, January 31, 2005
Worked there? Yes.
Did it stop the employees from talking about it behind the PHBs' backs? No.
It serves the benefits of the bosses, since they can play at camel traders and you can't. If you say during a performance review that Joe over there makes twice as much as you, then both Joe and yourself can be fired.

At interviews, when you are looking for a new place, you can always state that your current company's NDA prohibits you from discussing current salary.

Negotiation is becoming a more important skill than programming is.
Monday, January 31, 2005
I'm pretty sure my old job had it in place.  I'm pretty sure my current job doesn't care.

Then again, I live in an at-will state.  That is, an employer can fire you at any time for any reason, or no reason at all, unless you are working under binding contract, which most jobs are not.  Despite that, most employers are careful to document behavior for any person they think liable to sue them for discrimination of any type.  (At-will does work both ways - an employee can quit at any time, with or without cause or notice, except, again, when under contract.)
Aaron F Stanton Send private email
Monday, January 31, 2005
Definately a trap and a bad practice companies are using to keep the labor market inefficient and salary low.  Knowing all the salaries in a place with wild unequality of pay can create ill will.
Monday, January 31, 2005
Such policies are definitely in the "pickle" category.

Whose salary is it? Is it also against company policy to discuss substandard work when it isn't yours?

It could be that there are good reasons for policies such as the current one, however, it is probably more "democratic" to leave such matters to individuals.

"At will" employment laws seem to be targeted at individuals who are not represented by unions. I have heard or read that many states have laws that permit willy-nilly policy making, but I have only worked for company silly enough to try and tell me that my salary isn't mine to discuss if I chose to do so. I abided by the policy at the time, but that's only because I don't discuss my salary with anyone unless I have to (banks, etc.).

In which country is this happening?

Silly Me
Monday, January 31, 2005
Meant to say that I've only worked for *one* company as silly as the one mentioned.

Silly Me
Monday, January 31, 2005
Making it a firing offence is a bit silly.

But if two people compare salaries, one of them will most probably find they are earning less than the other. This is likely to create friction at some point.

If a company has grown by acquisition, it may end up with wide salary variation amongst employees in similar grades. Unravelling such a mess can be hard, so it's not hard to see why companies don't like salaries to be discussed in public.

But like I said, not liking something, and making it a firing offense, are two different things. Most people like to keep their salary private anyway, so companies don't have much to worry about.
Ian Boys Send private email
Monday, January 31, 2005
It is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act to fire employees for discussing their salaries. For a recent decision, see
look for the union label
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Generally where I work, discussing salary is a no-no. I'm not sure if it's a firing offense, but it would invite a reprimand of some kind.

If salary is an ad-hoc type of affair (particularly with bonuses) which vary from person to person, unlike the Fog Creek approach of fixed levels, then having salary out in the open may well cause a lot of friction as Ian suggests.
Joel Goodwin Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
At one place I worked it was a termination offense. When they passed out the stock option letters, opening the letter before you went home was a termination offense.

This was the place that had that silly "anything you create while employed by us belongs to us, even if it's at home on your own time on your own equipment" clause in their contract.

Philo Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
"This was the place that had that silly "anything you create while employed by us belongs to us, even if it's at home on your own time on your own equipment" clause in their contract."

So, did you give them your children? <g>
Daniel Daranas
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
IT IS ILLEGAL TO FIRE SOMEONE FOR DISCUSSING THEIR SALARY.  Or atleast according to my lawyer it is.

Your salary is considered your personal information.  Just like what you had for breakfast, that surgery you had, or where you grew up, it is YOUR personal information and you can share it if you like.

Now, if you talk about someone else's salary, that's when you can get into trouble because you have NO right to share someone else's personal info.

Companies can say it's a "firing offense", but they cannot fire you over it.
KC Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Dream on, KC.  What law do you suppose covers firing someone for discussing salary?
Kyralessa Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
This is US and employee specific.

As many people noted, in most states no reason at all is required to terminate your employment.  Unless... they want to avoid paying unemployment.

To avoid paying unemployment your employer must have just cause for termination. (Which is probably what KC's lawyer meant).

Many years ago I worked for a top-5 IT company with such a policy. It created such a legal issue for them, due to the "no tolerance" application, the policy was changed to "you can speak of your salary, but you cannot create a disturbance in the workplace." 

If you get all upset or get someone else upset because they may more or less than you, then you created a disturbance.  Subtle, but it stopped the lawsuits. Well, most of them over this anyway.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
I worked at a place that had this rule and had a "secret" fomula for the pay scale.  All od us programmers knew the formula.  One day I became a manager and had to attend training on learn the big secret.  I just had to laugh because I knew it already and they kept insiting on how we should never reveal how this all works.

It is no wonder companies have these policies.  I was the team lead and one of my underlings were complaining about the 3% raise that was across the board.  At the time I was making so little my family actually qualified for public assitiance.  My team member complained how the raise only came to X dollars and I did the math and asked if he really made that much more than me.  Considering he was right out of school I was a little ticked and quit shortly after that.  I don't think I'll ever work at a company that would have such a policy because what they are saying is that we are going to try a screw some of few.
Bill Rushmore Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
In America isn't forbidding employees to discuss to topic a violation of Freedom of Speech? And I'm not being sarcastic about this.
David Clayworth
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Consulting firms seem to be notorious for that.  Employees of consulting firms are also notorious for comparing notes anyway.  Heck, we knew that the interns were making.    When I told the consulting company that I was leaving for (substantially) higher pay, they actually had the brass to ask me how much more I was offered!  Needless to say, I didn't tell them. ;-)
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
This is a really interesting thread. I am interviewing for an entry-level management consulting position with a firm soon.

If they ask me what my salary expectations are what should I say? I am in the UK and have attended a top-tier university but have relatively little work experience.

I thought that letting them come up with an offer would be more beneficial for me perhaps. Perhaps say that I expect the salary to be highly competitive when compared with other consultancies?

Any ideas?
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
In my experience, businesses easily see through the "No, _you_ say a number first" game.  You need to find a realistic figure.  If you have colleagues who do similar jobs, ask them for a range (you don't have to ask what they actually make).  Go to salary sites; it can be hard to pinpoint the job you're looking for but if you persist you can sometimes find something useful.  Try several sites, not just one.

Obviously any business's preferred salary to pay is "as little as we can get away with", whereas any employee's is "as much as possible."  But having a realistic number tells them that you realize what the position is worth; if you give a number far above or below what it actually pays, it tells them you're not clear on what they're hiring for.  (And if you're really looking for a salary far above what they're offering, it's probably not a job you want anyway.)
Kyralessa Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
The company I work at has this policy. It serves only one purpose. To pay the worker as little money as possible to keep him working. It's a way for the company to rip you off as much as they can. I think this practice should be illegal.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
I read something about this recently.  There is a Federal law that makes it illegal to fire someone for discussing their salary.  In fact, IIRC, it makes it illegal for a company to even *say* they are going to fire people for that. 

It dated from the 1930's, I think, and had a name the the "Fair Labor Practices Act", or something very vaguely like that...
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
I would really like to see a reference to that.
Kyralessa Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
ConsultantX, have a look at
Justin Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
I think you're referring to the Fair Labor Standards Act:

But I don't see anything in there governing the legality of discharge for discussing wages.
Kyralessa Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Further searching reveals:

See section 232 down the page.

However, it's a California law, not a federal law.  But good news for those of you in California, I guess...
Kyralessa Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
One company I worked at, the president had a shared drive mounted and I guess thought it was his own drive, so he put a bunch of documents on it including the salary spreadsheet for everyone in the company. It took about 3 minutes for word to spread. Woopsie!
Tuesday, February 01, 2005

This company fires for Smoking on or OFF the job.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Note for ConsultantX:  Consultancies make their money "in the middle", so to speak.  They know that they can't make much of a margin on they entry-level folks b/c the folks to whom they contract aren't willing to pay that much for them. 

On the other end of the spectrum, most consulting agencies (that aren't bottom-feeders) keep a few "trophy" consultants on staff--the superstars who make their reputation.  Since most of the prima donnas come at a premium, the consultancies can't make much of a margin on them either.

That leaves the mid-range folks.  I don't know where you fall in terms of the entry-level to superstar, bu (IMHO) that's something to keep in mind while you're negotiating.

Good luck to you!
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Try working for a US government agency.  Our salaries are public under FOIA anyway, so the spreadsheet with everyone's salaries gets forwarded around sometime after raises, late december early january.

It doesn't get forwarded by the management, but one person knows someone else knows someone else... who is in HR.
Andrew Hurst Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
"In America isn't forbidding employees to discuss to topic a violation of Freedom of Speech?"


There are some issues here:

0. The "right to free speech" does not mean that your speech will not have consequences. You are welcome to slander someone if you wish, but you're not free from the consequence of a lawsuit. In general, the rights accorded by the Constitution mean that your exercise of them can be done without fear of being jailed by the government. However...

1. The right to free speech is not universal. I cannot, to use the common example, yell "fire!" in a crowded theater. Nor can I "speak" state secrets to an enemy, because such an action is treasonous.

2. Finally, unless you work for the government, your employer is not the US government, and therefore isn't required to honor your right to free speech. You are free to say "all customers suck!", but if you say it to a customer, your company has the right to fire you. Simiarly, they can make demands on things that would be considered under the purview of free speech, like limiting the types of clothing and visible body piercings that are acceptable in your workplace.
Brad Wilson Send private email
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
I don't think I ever worked for a company with such a policy.  If so, it was buried in some corner of an employee handbook that I missed reading.

My last employer posted everyone's salary for all to see.  You couldn't keep it a secret if you wanted to.

I am a contractor now.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
People sometimes have strange ideas about "freedom of speech".  It's not the right to an audience.  Anyone who doesn't like what you are saying has a right to not buy your newspaper, not listen to your radio station, not hire you, or to just plain ignore you. 

What it does mean is that if you can find someone who wants to listen to you, the government can't shut you up, with a few exceptions like obscenity or politics.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
People like to keep salary secret at the upper levels. It lets them not only rob the place, but do it with a bulldozer.

For example, remember Richard Grasso? The ex-ceo of the NYSE? And the outragous salary and pension plan he got? The only reason it got so big was because it was kept secret from the public.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
On the other hand, here in Australia some people argue that mandatory salary package disclosure is responsible for massive inflation of CEO compensation over the last few years.
Friday, February 04, 2005

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