Coworker Disclosed My Pay–I Feel Violated

A coworker has looked at my pay and paychecks and compared it to hers. After doing so she complained to our boss about my pay compared to what she gets paid. This coworker’s job title is Accounts Payable. I feel violated and need to know the next step of action to take. She complained to our boss that I am able to receive overtime and she is not. I have only worked in my current position for a little over a year and do not receive salary for that reason. She has been here as accounts payable for at least 6 years and receives salary where no overtime is given.–Feel Violated

Dear Feel Violated: 

Fortunately one of our guest respondents, Dr. Mark Mindell, Ph.D, has headed Human Resources for severa major corporations. I forwarded your question to him and he promptly responded as he usually does. His response and advice provide a clear explanation and advice: 

The singularly important information here is that an individual in Accounts Payable is looking at other employee checks and actually being crazy enough to not only let her supervisor know but is complaining about her pay as a result.  People who have access to confidential employee data (payroll, healthcare, etc.) are absolutely required to maintain complete confidentiality and are explicitly trained and reinforced via policy to never utilize that information for personal reasons nor provide that information to anyone else who is not cleared.  By doing so, she has endangered the entire reputation of HR to be viewed as capable of protecting employee privacy.  If I were her manager, I would terminate her on the spot for her egregious use of such information.  If I were the coworker who wrote the question, I would suggest she makes it extremely clear to her manager that she cannot trust HR with her data and that Accounts Payable insure this never happens again.  Of course she can’t fire the employee but she can make it clear that she feels harmed/violated by what happened.  If needed, I would report this to the top HR manager/Director or VP as well.

You now have a credible opinion that poses an answer to your “need to know the next step of action to take” question. 

  1. Explain your feeling of being violated. The accounts payable employee has violated accepted rules of most work organizations. Your boss should know that and should consult with Human Resources and/or his Director or V.P. superior about discipline of this individual or dismissal.
  2.  You need to decide what to say and not say about this. Apparently you were told about her complaint by your boss or someone. Possibly this Account Payable individual spoke to others as well.  I think it is best that you limit your talk to your boss and proper authorities such as Human Resources. You have the right to ask for an investigation and that this information not be spread farther. Revealing pay is not a legal violation as is revealing private health information, but pay represents an individual’s sense of worth. Therefore you see this is a violation of your sense of worth. I suggest that you take care to be humble and not angry. Stay cool and put yourself in the other person’s shoes–realizing she too felt violated, unfairly paid, and make a serious mistake to disclose your pay.
  3. The matter of keeping pay secret, in my opinion, is a worthy of top management debate. In some companies, pay is the same for different levels and known to all. Those who do the dirty and dangerous work too often are paid less, e.g. medical doctors are paid more, much more than are those who care for those who bath and clean sick patients and are at special risk now with COVID-19.  

So this is a time of decision for you. I suggest you also read Associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe’s advice to a similar question: Is it Illegal For A Coworker to Discover And Disclose My Salary? February 11, 2019. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Please let us know how this is resolved. William Gorden