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THE QUESTION

Our employer told us that we are not allowed to discuss our pay with our colleagues. I thought that was ridiculous, but after looking it up online, I'm not so sure. Can my employer really do this? If I do talk to my co-workers about our salaries, what can they do to me?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Greg Chung-Yan

Associate professor of industrial/organizational psychology,

University of Windsor

The simple answer is no, your employer can't really do that, at least not directly. But since when do employers always behave in ways they're supposed to?

Consider your goals before talking openly about your salary. There are times when a public airing of salaries can be put to good purpose. Ontario's Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act – the basis of the so-called Sunshine List – reduced the pay discrepancies between men and women in some places because it made evident just how wide the pay gap was. Too often, new employees go into salary negotiations unarmed with information about what fair compensation looks like or what to benchmark an offer against. Knowing what other people are paid is useful in such cases.

But unless there are strategic reasons to talk about salaries, keep this in mind: Casual conversations about salaries with co-workers are never casual. Money is an emotional topic, wrapped up with notions of fairness, self-esteem, competitiveness, and other strongly held values and personal sensitivities.

Look how judgmental and irritated people get when it comes to the Sunshine List. Information is limited to just the company, job title and salary and includes no other details of the compensation packages, job duties or employment history. But that lack of information doesn't stop readers – including myself – from becoming indignant. How do you suppose people will react when it comes to considering salaries in their own workplace with people they know? You would be safer talking about politics or religion.

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THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Senior Manager, Talent Management Services, Questrade Inc., Toronto

Discussing pay and compensation with colleagues often causes unnecessary tension, confusion and miscommunication. Simply put, your pay is your personal agreement with your employer.

I would advise anyone who had questions or concerns about how they are compensated, to talk to their employer directly about their own situation and not their co-workers. Compensation is determined based on a number of variables, including seniority, merit, and previous experience. Given this, we often see comparable ranges in pay for similar roles but not always the same pay for the same role. When colleagues discuss or share this information directly, it often becomes a point of tension for no valid reason.

If you are concerned about your compensation, this should come from you to your employer directly, and not because you heard someone else makes more. I encourage you to put faith in the employer you work for and trust their compensation strategy. If you don't, then I encourage you to speak to your employer directly about your concerns.

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In terms of what your employer can do to you for speaking about compensation if they've stated their policy on the matter, it could include progressive discipline measures if these discussions are disturbing the health of the workplace.

I also encourage you to keep in mind other aspects of your total compensation, such as flexible work arrangements, vacation, benefits, and a good work environment.

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