toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

May 13, 2008

pay secrecy

Jessie is in her first job and while she would never refuse a good job with prospects because it was low paying, she is very upset to learn that she is being paid lower than team members doing similar work and she is especially upset because some of these people lack her educational qualifications.

"Sometimes," says Jessie, "you can be in a job for months if not years before you discover that a team member is earning more than you are and when all things are equal - which they mostly are - you wonder why management allows this unfairness to happen."

How Jessie discovered she was earning less pay than a team member is one of those grey areas that we all wonder about. She didn’t go looking for evidence. She had no idea she was receiving less pay until Fate stepped in her path.

"I accessed the other guy's personal folder on the network to get a document I needed and saw a sub-folder called 'pay slips', explains Jessie. "Okay, it was probably not the right thing to do but it was on a team network, the personal folder was not locked and it contained many documents that needed to be shared."

Jessie felt that something as personal as pay slips shouldn't be on a network shared by all, so she felt that it had fallen into her hands for a reason and sure enough it had!

The other guy was earning $5K more than she was and she was understandably furious because he had no educational qualifications and had started about the same time as she had.

Jessie is aware that when people start jobs there is sometimes a weird clause in their contract stating words to the effect that you are not to discuss your salary with team members.

This is obviously a situation where team members are going to be earning more, or less, than their colleagues doing similar work, and in Jessie’s book of ethics it is a nasty practice.

"I would not have accepted the job had this sort of thing been in my contract," says Jessie.

"I am aware, too, that at interviews some employers will sometimes ask outright: 'What are your salary expectations?' They are perfectly aware of the going rate for your skills, and so are you, and when this happened to me when I was job hunting I refused to play their game."

"I told them that I expect to be paid a salary commensurate with that paid to other members of the team," says Jessie. "In doing so, I made it plain to them that I expect no more or no less than others doing similar work. Also, I am encouraging the employer to be ethical."

To Jessie, companies that enforce 'salary secrecy' clauses in contracts are dividing and conquering the team. Such clauses drive a wedge between team members, negating the whole purpose of putting people in teams.

"I believe in equal pay for equal work, and I do not believe it is ethical for companies to pay workers more, or less, than their colleagues doing equal work depending upon how assertive they are at interviews."

"I believe that people who have spent four year at university gaining qualifications deserve more pay than people who haven't," says Jessie. "But when the work is equal - as in my case - it didn't matter. I was simply angry and humiliated that I was getting less."

At her present workplace, Jessie did not go through that "What are your salary expectations?" question at the interview. The salary for the job was included in the advertisement. It was fixed, and Jessie accepted it as a fair salary.

The guy who was earning more than she was had started on the team a few months earlier, so either he had asked for a higher salary at the interview or it was offered to him.

"No job gets downgraded $5K in three months," says Jessie. "Something very wrong was going on here."

As Jessie points out, workplaces are where you make lifelong friends. You often spend more time with your team than you do your family, and good relations with them are thus imperative.

"If you discover you are earning more than a team member doing equal work," says Jessie, "you may be pleased but you will also feel uneasy wondering whether someone else in the team gets more than you do!"

It is not a good situation to be in. And a far worse situation would be discovering, as Jessie did, that you are earning less than a team member.

Jessie has now been placed in a tricky situation.

If she complains about receiving $5K less than her team member, she will have to admit that she looked at his private file. She does not feel happy about making this admission - but by the same token she feels that she was given the opportunity to look at his personal file for a reason.

That reason, Jessie feels, is to assess whether she wants to stay in her present job knowing that her employer is guilty of treating her unfairly.

Jessie can ask for a $5K raise without mentioning her team member’s salary, or she can look for another job.

"Funny thing," sighs Jessie, "I was perfectly happy with my salary before I discovered I was being paid less than someone else."

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