She Found My Pay Stub and Now Is Unhappy

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about comparing her pay to mine:

My Co worker found my pay stub in my trash in MY office and made a copy and took it home to compare what she was making. Afterwards, she confronted our boss complaining about special treatment because on that one check it was more than what her average pay is. Is this legal in Indiana?


Dear Stub:
We appreciate all questions submitted and regret that we do not have answers to everyone. Perhaps when you sent yours you didn’t see that we stated our site answers workplace communication-related questions, not legal. You might call the Indiana Department of Labor to ask about coworker’s comparative pay or if there is a law against looking at another’s pay stub. Most likely there is no law about such matters. I’ll assume you are accurate that your coworker took the pay stub from your trash. Snooping in another’s trash breaks the unwritten-rule of good etiquette, but it is not a crime, as far as I know.

The more important question is: what do you want to do about this coworker’s complaint that you were paid more than she was? Probably you just want your boss to tell her to mind her own business and to stay out of other’s trash. In short you want to put her down. That would be natural. Right?

Difference in pay may not be fair. On the other hand, a difference in pay could be based on several factors, such as when a person was hired, negotiation, length of employment, training, ability and/or attitude. Unions often negotiate pay scales for types of work. One beer plant I visited had a three tier system of pay. Generally, employers pay only what they have to in order to hire the kind of employees they need, and the rule of thumb is to keep pay secret to avoid such complaints as your coworker made. You might now think about what is really fair in how pay is determined in your workplace. Would it be better to have everyone’s pay known, just as it is known for who is paid what in our legislatures?

Is not the important thing for you to do now that this has happened to understand why your coworker is complaining and to not make a big issue over her snooping in your trash? You have something against her–her “crime”of getting into your trash. Is not workplace friendliness and harmony is more important than carrying a  grudge?

I hope these few thoughts provide some perspective and enable your workplace relationship not to sour. I am interested in what answer you get to the question you have submitted and how your boss deals with your coworker’s complaint. So if  you will, please share what happens with us. Incidentally I grew up in Indiana and did my graduate work at Purdue University. –William Gorden