Coworker Opened Someone’s Paycheck!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about salary comparison:

One of my co-workers complained to me about a new employee’s salary being more than hers. She obtained this information by opening the new employee’s paycheck…I was really shocked that she would have taken such an action. Do you think she should be fired? I have always kept matters of salary to myself because I know that most are based on individual skills. Also, she knew this was an inappropriate thing for her to do.

Signed, Shocked

Dear Shocked:

The policies of your company or business would probably dictate what should happen, based on a rule or policy. If this is the only significant thing she has done wrong, she should certainly be told not to ever, ever do that again. But, there may be a firing requirement for such a violation.The thing is, if she would do that, she might do other things involving snooping, if she thought she could justify it. What’s particularly problematic is that now YOU know. So, if it comes to light because, for example, she tells someone else and they report her, she may mention that she told you as well. Then, you’ll have to explain why you didn’t say anything. So, I’d say your coworker created her own problem in this situation, even though I understand her frustration about salaries.

I used to have a much more philosophical approach until I discovered how many companies seem to base salaries on what HR person is doing the file at the time! In many companies a new hire may have much less ability and education and still make more money than someone with years of experience and tenure, just because Ms. Smith did the paperwork rather than Ms. Jones. That’s not fair! But, if no one knows about it, at least it doesn’t stir up problems between employees. When it does get found out though, it’s very demoralizing to the person making less. I think it’s some of those things that are dissolving employee loyalty in so many businesses!

The big concern here is HOW your coworker found out. She didn’t just overhear or peek at a list on a desk, she opened something personal and official!¬†to Ask the Workplace Doctors about I would suggest you should go to your immediate supervisor and tell him or her what happened. Don’t give an opinion of what you think should or should not be done, just say you want to let him or her know what you were told, in case something should be said about it later.It will be awkward for you, if the person telling you about it is a friend or a close coworker. But, I don’t get the idea that is the case. If she says something, just tell her you regretted being put in that position but you felt you had to protect yourself since you were aware of it, and besides you did feel it was ethically not right. Your supervisor may do nothing, do a lot or only mildly reprimand her and tell her not to do it again. But, that is his role to fulfill and you will have fulfilled yours as an employee.

Second opinion: I’m adding my thoughts to Workplace Doctor Tina Rowe’s thoughtful advice not because they are not sufficient, but because I didn’t know she had answered you question.One of my co-workers complained to me about a new employee’s salary being more than hers. She obtained this information by opening the new employee paycheck. I was really shocked that she would have taken such an action. Do you think she should be fired? I have always kept matters of salary to myself because I know that pay is based on various factors; also she knew this was an inappropriate thing for her to do. Co-worker of a Nosey Co-worker

Yes, it is inappropriate and more than that to open another employee’s mail; it is unethical. Why? An invasion of another’s personal mail invades matters that are meant for his/her eyes only. If information within a personal envelope were meant to be public knowledge, there would be no reason for it to be sent sealed. Generally, as is expected by custom and sometime law, privacy should not be transgressed except in case of a warrant to investigate a suspected crime. Should your co-worker be fired? Other than for redundancy, firing is the most severe discipline possible and is reserved for employees who are incompetent, cause of serious cost to the company, guilty of a crime and/or unsafe acts. I don’t think firing is the correct punishment for this act. Your question implies that you are uncertain about how you should react to this matter. Your first option is to keep your mouth shut and in so doing approve of Mary’s act. A second option is to confront Mary stating that opening another’s mail is “inappropriate”? Is this what you should do? No. Rather than use a weasel word such as inappropriate, it would be more candid of you to say, “Mary, opening someone’s mail is wrong and you know that. Would you want me or anyone other than you to open your mail? I don’t want you opening my mail. Do you understand?” Use your own words, but you can make your displeasure known kindly but firmly.

You might add to Mary that you expect that she will dislike for you to have said this, but that you think it is better talk to her than top report her to management. You might preface expressing your opinion by asking her if she wants or doesn’t want to be told when she makes a mistake.The unspoken issue underlying your query is: should pay be a secret between employer and employee and should employees avoid conversation about it? You will have to decide if it is in your best interest to avoid discussion about pay. Avoiding conversation about pay is as polite as it is not to talk about religion and sex, but the fact is that in most workplaces employees do occasionally inquire about one another’s pay. Often who is paid what is only semi-secret and cause for complaints. As long as pay is secrete, managers will be able to hire a person for whatever they can get her/him. They can use high pay to acquire special talent and keep it secret so as not to cause others in their work force to ask for what is comparable. They can maintain that difference in pay motivates special effort among workers. On the other hand, there are good arguments why pay should not be secret, and civil service, unions, and a few companies have chosen to make it an open matter. I know discussion of this is more than for what you asked.

I can tell you are very discrete and will not make pay to become an obsession. However, you should not hesitate to learn what is a fair wage for your talents and is possible within your place of work. So I leave you with this thought: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If your co-workers and you can focus on cutting wasted supplies, time, energy, and money and on delivering the best possible quality, you will know the joys and benefits of working together. –Bill Gorden

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.